American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
September 2015

Median Household Income in 2014



2. New! 2013 Spending, 2014 Attitudes:
BEST CUSTOMERS, 11th edition
WHO’S BUYING REPORTS, 14-volume series


To see Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog, click here.

1. Hot Trends

Median Household Income in 2014   

Median household income in 2014 was unchanged from 2013, according to the latest release of Current Population Survey income data. This seemingly ho-hum finding is in fact interesting news, revealing how stuck we are in the economic backwash of the Great Recession. The $53,657 median household income of 2014 was not statistically different from the $54,462 median of 2013, the Census Bureau reports. This is the third consecutive year of no statistically significant change in median household income following two years of decline.

Because the Census Bureau changed the way it asks about income in the Current Population Survey, the 2014 numbers are not comparable with figures prior to 2013 (when respondents were split into two panels for comparative purposes, with one panel asked the new questions and the other the traditional questions). A comparison of 2013 data from the two panels reveals how much better the new questions capture IRA and 401(k) withdrawals, boosting the 2013 estimate of median household income by 3.2 percent.
One factor that may be suppressing median household income is the aging of the population as millions of boomers retire and live on reduced incomes. But the Census Bureau reports no statistically significant change in median household income for any age group between 2013 and 2014. Here are the 2014 numbers…
Median household income by age in 2014
Under age 25: $34,605
Aged 25 to 34: $54,243
Aged 35 to 44: $66,693
Aged 45 to 54: $70,832
Aged 55 to 64: $60,580
Aged 65-plus: $36,895
Sluggish Household Growth 2014-15
The number of households in the United States grew by just 0.53 percent between 2014 and 2015–from 123.9 million to 124.6 million, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. A Demo Memo analysis shows that this is the fifth slowest rate of growth in more than five decades of keeping score. One factor behind the sluggish growth was the 4.2 percent decline in the number of households headed by the youngest adults. Here is the numerical (and percent) change in households by age of householder…
Change in households, 2014 to 2015 (numbers in 000s)
Total households:  656 ( 0.5%)
Under age 25:      -282 (-4.2%)
Aged 25 to 34:        87 ( 0.4%)
Aged 35 to 44:       -43 (-0.2%)
Aged 45 to 54:       -98 (-0.4%)
Aged 55 to 64:      114 ( 0.5%)
Aged 65-plus:       877 ( 3.0%)
The decline in households headed by people aged 35 to 54 is due to the small Generation X moving into those age groups. The increase in households headed by people aged 55 or older is due to the large Baby-Boom generation in those age groups.
Fewer Millennials Live Independently
Young adults aged 25 to 34 are less likely to live independently than were their counterparts in 2007, according to an analysis of Current Population Survey data by Pew Research Center. Pew defines independent living as heading one’s own household or living in a household headed by a spouse, unmarried partner, or other nonrelative.
The percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds who live independently is 86 percent among those with a bachelor’s degree, 79 percent among those with some college, and 75 percent among those with a high school diploma or less education. Regardless of education, the figures are lower in 2015 than in 2007.
Behind the decline in independent living is less money. Median weekly earnings for 25-to-34-year-olds in 2015 are below the 2007 level, after adjusting for inflation…
Median weekly earnings of 25-to-34-year-olds
Bachelor’s: $951 in 2015, still less than the $966 of 2007
Some college: $560 in 2015, well below the $640 of 2007
High school or less: $500 in 2015, below the $527 of 2007
What’s Holding Down Wages? Maybe The Lower Rate of Job-to-Job Transitions
Although the unemployment rate has fallen by nearly 5 percentage points since the Great Recession, wages have not grown much. One reason for sluggish wage growth, according to an analysis appearing in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Liberty Street Economics blog, is the low rate of job-to-job transitions–workers who leave one job and immediately take another without experiencing a spell of nonemployment. Job-to-job transition workers typically are moving up the job ladder, finding new jobs with higher pay. Unfortunately, the job-to-job transition rate has yet to recover from the Great Recession.
Using data from the Survey of Consumer Expectations, Fed economists analyzed changes in the wages of job-to-job transition workers and workers who experienced a period of nonemployment before their current job…
Job-to-job transition workers
Current wage: $27.28
Starting wage at current job: $20.09
Ending wage at previous job: $18.79
Period of nonemployment workers
Current wage: $18.31
Starting wage at current job: $14.61
Ending wage at previous job: $17.92
Although both types of workers had similar wages at the end of their previous job, the job-to-job transition workers had a higher starting wage at their current job and a much higher current wage. Because of the lower rate of job-to-job transitions, conclude the researchers, fewer workers are moving up the job ladder. That may be suppressing wage growth.
When Building Wealth, Timing Is Everything
When it comes to building wealth, timing is everything. Gen Xers are learning this the hard way, according to an analysis of American debt by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Many Gen Xers bought houses when prices were peaking during the housing bubble. Now they owe more in mortgage debt than any other generation and $8,000 more than Boomers did at the same age (in 2013 dollars)…
Median housing debt at age 40
$69,602 for Gen Xers in 2013
$61,437 for Boomers in 1995
The timing is better for Millennials. By delaying homeownership, they have less housing debt than Gen Xers did at the same age (in 2013 dollars)…
Median housing debt at age 27
$17,429 for Millennials in 2013
$22,255 for Gen Xers in 1998
“These data show that the timing of home purchases for each of the generations has contributed to very different debt profiles,” concludes the report. Pew’s analysis of debt also includes education loans, vehicle loans, and credit card debt.
Average Household Spending Rises in 2014
The average household spent $53,495 in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey–3 percent more than in 2013, after adjusting for inflation. Despite the increase, spending remains below it’s all-time high of $56,833 (in 2014 dollars) reached in 2006. The low point occurred in 2013, when the average household spent just $51,929.
Necessities account for some but not all of the spending boost between 2013 and 2014. The average household spent 7.5 percent more on rent, after adjusting for inflation, but it also spent 9.6 percent more on apparel–a category that had been in long-term decline. Spending on entertainment climbed 8.2 percent, and spending on food away from home was up 4.5 percent. Spending on gasoline was down 7 percent. Health insurance spending in 2014 cannot be compared to earlier years because of changes in the way the Consumer Expenditure Survey collects the data.
Average household spending (in 2014 dollars)
2014: $53,495
2013: $51,929
2012: $53,042
2011: $52,312
2010: $52,230
2006: $56,833
2000: $52,303
How Spending Has Changed Since WWII
The average American household spends differently than its counterpart did in the 1940s, according to an analysis in the Monthly Labor Review. Here are the most striking changes in the share of the household budget devoted to…
Food and alcohol (-19.7 percentage points)
2013: 16.2%
1944: 35.9%
Housing (+14.1 percentage points)
2013: 40.2%
1944: 26.1%
Clothing (-12.7 percentage points)
2013: 3.3%
1944: 16.0%
Transportation (+14.1 percentage points)
2013: 20.4%
1944: 6.3%
Medical care (+2.7 percentage points)
2013: 8.2%
1944: 5.5%
The share of household spending devoted to recreation and entertainment climbed from 2.8 to 5.6 percent between 1944 and 2013, and the share devoted to education more than tripled-growing from just 0.6 to 2.1 percent. Conversely, the share of household spending devoted to tobacco fell from 2.0 to 0.7 percent, and the share devoted to reading plummeted from 1.1 to just 0.2 percent. Note: For comparative purposes, spending data are adjusted to exclude gift purchases, cash contributions, personal insurance, and pensions.
Survey Finds 68% of Formerly Uninsured Now Have Health Insurance
Health insurance coverage has expanded greatly because of the Affordable Care Act. According to a longitudinal study of California’s uninsured by the Kaiser Family Foundation, an impressive 68 percent of California residents who lacked health insurance in the summer of 2013–prior to the implementation of the ACA–were covered by health insurance when re-interviewed in the spring of 2015.
What a difference health insurance makes. When first interviewed in 2013, fully 86 percent of the uninsured said it was difficult to afford health care. It was their top financial concern. Among those who had gained health insurance by 2015, only 49 percent still felt this way, and health care costs now ranked 4th as a financial concern after rent/mortgage, utilities, and gasoline. Among those who were still uninsured in 2015, paying for health care continued to be their number-one financial concern, a problem for 85 percent.
Who remains uninsured two years after the rollout of the ACA? Fully 70 percent of the still-uninsured are Hispanic. Among them, 58 percent are undocumented immigrants and ineligible for coverage. Many Hispanics who are eligible but still uninsured say they’re afraid to sign up because it might draw attention to a family member’s immigration status.
More Renters in Single-Family Homes
“The recent growth of single-family rentals is unprecedented,” reports the Joint Center for Housing Studies in its report, The State of the Nation’s Housing 2015
According to data from the American Housing Survey, the number of renters who live in a single-family house grew 30 percent between 2007 and 2013. That’s twice as fast as the growth in renter households overall and far surpasses the 8 percent increase in the number of renters who live in multi-family buildings. Here is the number of renter-occupied households by type of housing unit in 2013 and the percent change in the number since 2007…
Renter-occupied housing, 2013 (and % change 2007-13)
Total renter-occupied housing units: 40,201,000 (15%)
Single-family homes: 14,222,000 (30%)
Multi-family buildings: 24,420,000 (8%)
Mobile homes: 1,559,000 (4%)
Peak Transportation Spending
Has household spending on transportation peaked? It looks that way, according to a Demo Memo analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Surveys. The average household devoted 17.0 percent of its budget to transportation in 2014. While this is more than the Great Recession low of 15.6 percent in 2008 (the smallest since the early 1960s), it remains well below the 19-plus percent of the early 2000s.
Transportation is our second biggest expense. In 2014, the average household devoted $9,073 to transportation, most of it for vehicles and gasoline. The evolution of this major household expense has been documented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer expenditure surveys. In the earliest, taken in 1901 and 1918-19, there was no separate spending category for transportation, so minor was the expense. As cars became common, transportation became a category. In 1934-36, transportation consumed 8 percent of average household spending. At the time, 40 percent of households owned a vehicle. The figure climbed over the decades, peaking in 2008 at 89 percent. In 2014, a smaller 87 percent of households owned or leased a vehicle. The average number of vehicles per household was 1.9, down from 2.0 as recently as 2009.
With households holding on to their vehicles longer (the average age of light vehicles is now 11.4 years, up from 9.1 in 2000), greater fuel efficiency, increased urbanization, and the rise of ride sharing services, it looks like peak transportation spending may be in our rear view mirror.
A Decline in Commuting to Work by Automobile
The percentage of American workers who commute by automobile is on the decline, peaking at 87.9 percent in 2000 and falling to 85.8 percent by 2013, reports the Census Bureau. Much of the decline in automobile commuting is due to less carpooling. The percentage of workers who carpool fell to its lowest point in 2013–9.4 percent, and less than half of the 19.7 percent of 1980. But the percentage of workers who drive alone to work alone has also fallen (very) slightly in recent years–from the all-time high of 76.6 percent in 2010 to 76.4 percent in 2013.
Percentage of workers who drive alone to work
2013: 76.4%
2010: 76.6%
2000: 75.7%
1990: 73.2%
1980: 64.4%
Walking/Bicycling as Transportation
On an average day, only 10 percent of Americans walk or bicycle as transportation, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control–meaning they walk or bicycle not for exercise but to get from point A to point B. Although urban populations have been growing in recent years, the percentage who walk or bicycle as transportation has fallen slightly over the past decade–from 11.8 percent in 2003 to 10.3 percent in 2012, according to the CDC analysis of the American Time Use Survey. Younger adults are most likely to walk or bicycle as transportation on an average day. Here are the 2012 stats by age…
Percent who walked/bicycled as transportation in past 24 hours
Aged 16 to 39: 14.0%
Aged 40 to 59: 8.4%
Aged 60-plus: 6.9%
Rise of the Non-Religious
According to a Demo Memo analysis of the General Social Survey, this is the percentage of people aged 18 or older who say they have no religious preference, 1972 to 2014…
No religious preference
2014: 21%
2010: 18%
2000: 14%
1990:   8%
1980:   7%
1972:   5%
Inheritance and Retirement Risk
How much do inheritances contribute to retirement readiness? That’s the question asked by the Center for Retirement Research. The answer is not much.
Researchers at the Center for Retirement Research analyzed the impact of inheritances on the National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI) using inheritance data from the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances. The NRRI is a measure of the percentage of households at risk of missing their target retirement income replacement rate. In 2013, the NRRI was 51.6–meaning 51.6 percent of working-age households are at risk at age 65 of being unable to maintain pre-retirement spending after retirement. If inheritances were eliminated, the percentage at risk rises by only 0.8 percentage points–to 52.4 percent.
Why do inheritances have such a small impact on retirement readiness? One reason is that few households receive an inheritance–only 19 percent had ever received an inheritance, according to the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances. Another reason is that most inheritances are modest. Among householders aged 30 to 59 who had received an inheritance, the median value was just $87,500 (including the value of inherited houses). Finally, inheritances don’t have much of an impact because those who receive them are already better prepared for retirement (risk index of 40.4) than those who do not (risk index of 54.2). Among households receiving an inheritance, eliminating the windfall boosts their risk of running out of money from 40.4 to 44.8 percent–still well below average.
These are a sampling of posts published in the past few weeks in Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog. Please send questions or comments to


Average household spending on alcoholic beverages is highest in the West (19% above average) and lowest in the South (19% below average).


Who buys? What do they buy? How much do they spend? Get the dollar-for-dollar answers you need for business success in today’s competitive economy from these one-stop resources. You can’t get these data online!


Looking for customers? Repositioning your products? Americans are still spending money, but only those who are on top of the trends will know who the spenders are. The just-published 20th edition of Household Spending: Who Spends How Much on What reveals who spent what in 2013 and the products and services they purchased. Also in this edition are comparisons of spending before (2000-06) and after (2006-13) the Great Recession and a look at the 2010-13 spending recovery.


The annual spending data in Household Spending, the first edition of which was published more than twenty years ago in 1991, allow you to compare and contrast spending by a host of demographic characteristics. With this vital information, which is not available online, you can determine market potential, identify your best customers, and understand which segments account for the largest share of spending. You get the answers by the demographics that count–age, income, high-income households, household type, region of residence, race and Hispanic origin, and education.


You can see the book’s introduction, table of contents, index, and sample pages at, where you can also download this unique reference tool as a PDF linked to Excel spreadsheets of all data tables

Hardcover: $144.00 (978-1-9935114-80-2) 612 pages

Paper: $109.95 (978-1-933588-22-3)

PDF with Excel (single user): $109.95 (978-1-933588-24-7)


Best Customers: Demographics of Consumer Demand, 11th edition

Find out how the American marketplace has been transformed by the Great Recession in this new edition of Best Customers: Demographics of Consumer Demand, with all-important 2013 spending data.


In Best Customers, experts and novices alike can see at a glance who spends the most and who controls the largest market share–often surprisingly different–on over 300 products and services organized into 21 chapters such as Entertainment, Groceries, Computers, Telephones, etc.–everything a consumer might buy. Based on unpublished data–you can’t find this on the Internet–from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ valuable Consumer Expenditure Survey, Best Customers brings you insight into household spending by the demographics that count–age, income, household type, region of residence, race and Hispanic origin, and education. Each product table is accompanied by text that identifies the best customers, analyzes spending patterns, describes spending trends before (2000-06) and after (2006-13) the Great Recession, examines the all-important 2010-13 spending recovery, and predicts future trends based on changing demographics.


You can see the book’s introduction, table of contents, index, and sample pages at, where you can also download this unique reference tool as a PDF linked to Excel spreadsheets of all data tables.

Hardcover: $138.00 (978-1-933588-07-0) 808 pages

Paper: $103.95 (978-1-933588-17-9)
PDF with Excel (single user): $103.95 (978-1-933588-21-6)
Who’s Buying Series

Get the demographics you need to target your markets with the 14-volume Who’s Buying Series, which can be purchased individually or as a set. Each volume gives you the facts about consumer spending by age, income, household type, race and Hispanic origin, region of residence, and education. To round out the spending picture, you also get who-are-the-best-customer analyses of the data. These new editions are must-haves updated with 2013 data. They reveal product-by-product spending trends before (2000-06) and after (2006-13) the Great Recession as well as the all-important 2010-13 spending recovery. The Who’s Buying Series includes Alcoholic & Non-Alcoholic Beverages; Apparel; Entertainment; Groceries; Health Care; Household Furnishings, Services, and Supplies; Information and Consumer Electronics; Pets; Restaurants; Transportation; Travel; and Who’s Buying: Executive Summary, Who’s Buying by Age, and Who’s Buying by Race and Hispanic Origin.


You can see the introduction, table of contents, index, and sample pages of each volume in the Who’s Buying Series at, where you can also download these unique reference tools as PDFs linked to Excel spreadsheets of all data tables. Individual reports: $68.95; 14-volume series: $850.00.

The 8th edition of American Attitudes: Who Thinks What about the Issues That Shape Our Lives coaxes the results of the latest (2014) General Social Survey out of the shadows of academia and makes them readily available for researchers who want to explore Americans’ changing attitudes.


In hundreds of tables, the 8th edition of American Attitudes taps into the General Social Survey gold mine, revealing what the public thinks about topics ranging from gay marriage to the American Dream, how Americans feel about their financial status, their hopes for their children, how often they socialize and with whom, their religious beliefs, patriotic feelings, political leanings, and standard of living. It shows those answers by the demographics that shape perspective–sex, age, race, Hispanic origin, education, and region. American Attitudes reveals 2014 attitudes by demographic characteristic, and for every 2014 question for which historical data are available, it shows the history of response all the way back to the first appearance of the question on the General Social Survey. American Attitudes provides the latest data and is an invaluable resource for historic trends.


American Attitudes is organized into 10 chapters: Public Arena, Government and Politics, Patriotism, Science and Information, Religion, Work and Money, Family and Friends, Diversity, Personal Outlook, and Sexuality.


You can see the book’s introduction, table of contents, index, and sample pages on, where you can also download this unique reference tool as a PDF linked to Excel spreadsheets of all data tables.

Hardcover: $138.00 (978-1-933588-20-9) 604 pages

Paper: $103.95 (978-1-885070-47-0)
PDF with Excel (single-user): $103.95 (978-1-885070-66-1)

For your convenience, all of New Strategist’s titles are available as searchable single- and multiple-user PDFs linked to spreadsheets of each data table so you can do your own analyses and create PowerPoint presentations.


Percentage of Americans who think the United States will fight in another world war within the next 10 years…

2014: 59%
2000: 38%