American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
September 2018

Median Household Income Tops $61,000



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Median Household Income Tops $61,000

Median household income climbed to $61,372 in 2017, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. This is 1.8 percent higher than the 2016 median, after adjusting for inflation. But not all age groups made gains. The youngest adults–householders under age 25–saw their median household income fall by 5.8 percent between 2016 and 2017. Householders aged 25 to 34 struggled to keep up, their median income rising by just 0.1 percent after adjusting for inflation. Here are the 2016-17 changes in median household income by age of householder…
Median household income 2017 (% change 2016-17; in 2017$)
Under age 25: $40,093 (-5.8%)
Aged 25 to 34: $62,294 (+0.1%)
Aged 35 to 44: $78,368 (+3.0%)
Aged 45 to 54: $80,671 (+2.3%)
Aged 55 to 64: $68,567 (+2.9%)
Aged 65-plus: $41,125 (+1.1%)


Rising Tide Is Not Lifting All Boats

Is there something to worry about here? Median household income grew 1.8 percent between 2016 and 2017, after adjusting for inflation. This gain was well below the increases recorded in the previous two years–3.8 percent between 2015-16 and 5.2 percent between 2014-15. That’s not the only bad news in the latest income data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Many segments of the population are being left behind…

Young adults: Householders under age 25 lost ground between 2016 and 2017, their median income falling by 5.8 percent after adjusting for inflation. Those aged 25 to 34 barely kept pace with a tiny 0.1 percent increase.

Blacks: Black households are treading water. Their median income did not grow at all between 2016 and 2017. At the same time, the median income of households headed by non-Hispanic Whites grew 2.6 percent, and the Hispanic median rose by an even larger 3.7 percent.

Workers:Also disturbing, the earnings of full-time workers–both men and women–fell 1.1 percent between 2016 and 2017. With the earnings of full-time workers declining, it will be much harder for household income to continue to grow.


A New Record High in Household Spending

Average household spending reached a new record high in 2017, finally surpassing the previous high set in 2006. American households spent an average of $60,060 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey. This is 2.1 percent more than the $58,846 of 2006, after adjusting for inflation. In the wake of the Great Recession, spending plunged as low as $51,526 in 2013. The 2017 spending figure is 16.6 percent higher than the 2013 low–an additional $8,500 of spending per year per household. No wonder the economy is booming.

Average household spending (in 2017$)
2017: $60,060 (record high)
2016: $58,532
2015: $57,892
2013: $51,526 (post-Great Recession low)
2010: $54,080
2006: $58,846 (previous record high)


Older Householders Are Spending More

Average household spending reached a record high of $60,060 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey. The 2017 figure surpasses by 2.1 percent the previous record set in 2006, after adjusting for inflation.

Households headed by people under age 45 are still spending less than their counterparts did in 2006, however. One reason for their lackluster spending is lower marriage rates, with fewer of these households being headed by married couples–the biggest spenders. At the other extreme, the spending of householders aged 65-plus has surged. Households headed by people aged 65 or older spent 16 percent more in 2017 than their counterparts spent in 2006. One factor behind the increased spending of older Americans is the influx of baby boomers into the age group. Studies have shownthat the baby-boom cohort is more comfortable with debt than the generation it is replacing.

Average household spending, 2017 (and % change since 2006; in 2017 dollars)
Under age 25: $33,629 (-1.9%)
Aged 25 to 34: $55,325 (-4.4%)
Aged 35 to 44: $69,034 (-1.2%)
Aged 45 to 54: $73,905 (+5.6%)
Aged 55 to 64: $64,972 (+5.2%)
Aged 65-plus: $49,542 (+16.2%)


44% Increase in Households Headed by People Aged 65 to 74

The number of households in the United States grew by 1.4 million between 2017 and 2018, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Household growth appears to be back on track after anemic growthbetween 2016 and 2017.

Since 2010, the nation’s households have expanded by 10 million, rising from 118 million to 128 million. But only one age group accounts for most of the increase. The number of householders aged 65 to 74 grew by an enormous 44 percent between 2010 and 2018, accounting for 58 percent of total household growth during those years..

Households by age of householder (and % change, 2010-18)
Total households: 127,586,000 (+8.5%)
Under age 25: 6,211,000 (-0.4%)
Aged 25 to 34: 20,264,000 (+5.2%)
Aged 35 to 44: 21,576,000 (+0.3%)
Aged 45 to 54: 22,542,000 (-9.4%)
Aged 55 to 64: 24,020,000 (+17.8%)
Aged 65 to 74: 19,006,000 (+44.4%)
Aged 75-plus: 13,967,000 (+15.4%)


Who Does More, Men or Women?

Everyone knows that women do more housework than men. Each year the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Surveydocuments the difference. The 2017 survey finds women aged 15 or older spending an average of 2.2 hours a day doing what it calls “household activities,” while men devote only 1.4 hours a day to these tasks. Household activities include cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, pet care, home repair, vehicle care, and household management.

In every age group, women do more housework. The gap is greatest among the youngest adults–under age 25–where women spend twice as much time as men engaged in household activities. The gap declines fairly steadily with age. Among people aged 65 or older, women do only 22 percent more housework than their male counterparts.

But there’s more to a day’s work than housework. There’s also paid work and child care. Men spend 47 percent more time than women working for pay on an average day. Women spend twice as much time as men taking care of household children. What happens when you add up the time men and women devote to all three responsibilities? It turns out, there is near equality in the amount of time men and women spend doing housework, paid work, and childcare. Men devote 5.60 hours a day to these activities and women 5.35 hours–a difference of only 18 minutes a day, with men doing the extra time. Even if you break it down by age, men and women spend nearly equal amounts of time doing what needs to be done…

Difference in time women and men devote to housework, paid work, and child care on an average day
Aged 15 to 19: women, 24 minutes more
Aged 20 to 24: men, 1 minute more
Aged 25 to 34: women, 1 minute more
Aged 35 to 44: men, 13 minutes more
Aged 45 to 54: men, 11 minutes more
Aged 55 to 64: men, 17 minutes more
Aged 65-plus: women, 1 minute more


47% of Millennials Have a Tattoo

With summer at its peak, tattoos are more visible than ever. Overall, 29 percent of Americans aged 18 or older have a tattoo, according to a 2015 Harris Poll. This is nearly double the 16 percent of 2003. With such rapid growth, the percentage with a tattoo today is certainly higher than the 29 percent of 2015. Here are the 2015 stats by generation…

Percent with at least one tattoo by generation
Millennials: 47%
Gen Xers: 36%
Boomers: 13%
Older: 10%


Feelings of Success Rise with Age

The percentage of Americans who believe they are successful is lowest among young adults and rises with age. The 2016 General Social Surveyasked people aged 18 or older how they felt about the statement, “Right now I see myself as being pretty successful.” Overall, 46 percent said the statement was mostly or definitely true for them. But the percentage was lowest among Millennials and highest among older Americans…

“I see myself as being pretty successful” (percent saying mostly/definitely true)
Millennials: 38%
Gen Xers: 41%
Boomers: 51%
Older: 57%

By education, only 42 percent of those without a bachelor’s degree felt successful compared with a larger 56 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree.


Decline in Births Now Equals Great Depression Drop

Since peaking in 2007, the annual number of births in the United States has fallen 10.7 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This number has significance: it is equal to the decline in births that occurred during the Great Depression.Among Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites, the decline has been even greater…

Births in 2017 (and % change, 2007-17)
Total: 3,853,472 (-10.7)
Asian: 249,214 (-2.1%)
Black: 560,560 (-10.6%)
Hispanic: 897,518 (-15.5%)
Non-Hispanic White: 1,991,348 (-13.8%)

But the current birth decline differs from the Great Depression decline in two ways. One, the Great Depression decline occurred over a four-year period while the current decline is ten years old and counting. Two, the Great Depression decline ended as the economy improved while the current decline has deepened with the improving economy. According to the Center for Retirement Researchthe ongoing decline in the midst of a booming economy suggests that we may be in “a slow drift” to the low fertility levels of some other developed countries.


Census Bureau Counts Ridesharing Work

A few months ago the Bureau of Labor Statistics disappointed trend trackerswith its incomplete update of alternative workers. The update did not include a big chunk of the workforce–all those workers (such as Uber and Lyft drivers) whose jobs depend on gig-enabling technologies. Now the Census Bureau has stepped into the breach. By analyzing the government’s “nonemployer” statistics, researchers at the bureau have produced a count of the rideshare workforce and a glimpse of its changing characteristics.

The government defines nonemployers as businesses with no paid employees and annual receipts of $1,000 or more. Most nonemployers are self-employed, and their business is not necessarily their main source of income. The Census Bureau researchers took a look at nonemployers in the “taxi and limousine service” industry over time. What they found is shocking, but not surprising–the 700,565 nonemployers in the taxi and limousine service industry in 2016 were more than three times the 224,000 of 2013. Traditional taxi drivers are also included in these numbers, but the surge is entirely due to the rise of ridesharing.

Not only has the number of ridesharing workers ballooned, but their characteristics have changed. In 2013–before the industry disruption–most nonemployer drivers worked full-time. Only 18 percent also had wage and salary earnings in the same year. The great majority (83 percent) were foreign-born, and just 6 percent were women. The characteristics of nonemployers who started driving in 2015–after the industry disruption–were very different. Most were part-timers. The great majority (73 percent) also had wage and salary earnings in the same year. Only 48 percent were foreign-born, and a larger 21 percent were women. Perhaps the biggest difference between drivers before and after the industry disruption is in their earnings. The 2013 drivers, most of whom worked full-time, earned $41,840 (in 2015 dollars). The 2015 drivers, most of whom worked part-time, earned $11,450.


Americans Drive 51 Minutes a Day

Eighty-eight percent of Americans aged 16 or older drive at least occasionally, according to the AAA Foundation’s third annual American Driving Survey. Those who drive spend an average of 51 minutes a day behind the wheel on their 2.24 road trips. People aged 25 to 49 do the most driving and log the greatest number of daily trips…

Average number of minutes per day spent driving, 2016 (and number of trips)
Aged 16 to 19: 37.5 (1.96)
Aged 20 to 24: 50.2 (1.89)
Aged 25 to 34: 57.5 (2.45)
Aged 35 to 49: 59.1 (2.41)
Aged 50 to 64: 46.8 (2.35)
Aged 65 to 74: 51.0 (2.10)
Aged 75-plus: 33.9 (1.84)


The Shocking Rise in Obesity

Something is not right with this picture. Since the early 1960s, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of Americans aged 20 to 74 who are obese has climbed from just 13 percent to fully 40 percent. If obesity were an infectious disease, the nation would be in a panic and demanding a cure.
Percent of people aged 20 to 74 who are obese
2015-16: 40.0%
2009-10: 36.1%
1999-00: 30.9%
1976-80: 15.0%
1960-62: 13.4%
These figures are based on the measuredheights and weights of nationally representative samples of Americans. Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above 30 kg/m².
Both men and women have succumbed to obesity. Among men aged 20 to 74, the percentage who are obese climbed from 10.7 percent in 1960-62 to 38.3 percent in 2015-16. For women, the comparable figures are 15.8 and 41.6 percent. By age, the NCHS provides trends only back to 1988-94. Here are the numbers…
Obesity among people aged 20 to 39
2015-16: 35.7%
1988-94: 17.7%
Obesity among people aged 40 to 59
2015-16: 42.8%
1988-94: 27.9%
Obesity among people aged 60-plus
2015-16: 41.0%
1988-94: 23.7%
Interestingly, the percentage of Americans who are simply overweight and not obese has not increased–31.5 percent in 1960-62, and 31.0 percent in 2015-16.


Eating While Doing Something Else

If you’ve ever wondered why Americans are increasingly overweight, the American Time Use Survey may have the answer. Not only do we spend an average of 63.6 minutes a day eating and drinking mindfully (meaning as a primary activity–or our main activity at the time) but we spend another 17 minutes eating and drinking mindlessly (meaning as a secondary activity while we’re focusing on something else), according to a USDA Economic Research Service analysis. How many calories can we consume in 17 minutes? More than enough to tip the scales, apparently.

Five pursuits account for the 57 percent majority of the primary activities in which we engage while eating and drinking as a secondary activity. Number one is watching television. Twenty-three percent of mindless eating and drinking occurs while watching TV. Close behind is working at our main job, which accounts for another 23 percent. Socializing is number three. Food and drink preparation is fourth, which may explain why so many cooks claim not to be hungry when sitting down for dinner. Reading for personal interest is number five.

There are notable differences between men and women in the primary activities that account for most of their secondary eating and drinking. Among men, the top five activities are watching TV, working, socializing, playing games, and relaxing/thinking. For women, the top five are working, watching TV, food and drink preparation, socializing, and grooming.


Solar Panels Most Popular in Pacific States

How many of the nation’s houses have solar panels? The 2017 American Housing Surveyhas the answer. Overall, 3.1 million occupied housing units in the United States had solar panels in 2017–or 2.6 percent of the total. This is the percentage of homes with solar panels by census division…

4.0% in New England
2.2% in Middle Atlantic
0.7% in East North Central
0.6% in West North Central
1.5% in South Atlantic
0.6% in East South Central
1.5% in West South Central
3.8% in Mountain
7.4% in Pacific

The 2017 American Housing Survey also asked about solar panels on houses in selected metropolitan areas. Here are the findings: in Riverside-San Bernardino, 9.7 percent of homes had solar panels; San Francisco 6.9 percent; Phoenix 6.5 percent; Los Angeles 5.0 percent; Atlanta 1.0 percent; and Seattle 0.8 percent.

Note: To see the states in each census division, click here.


Pets Outnumber People in the U.S.

There are more pets than people in the United States, according to the 2017-2018 APPA (American Pet Products Association) National Pet Owners Survey. Our nation is home to 326 million people and 393 million pets. The 68 percent majority of households own at least one pet, and many own more than one…

Percentage of households owning pets by type (and average number owned)
Dogs: 48% (1.5)
Cats: 38% (2.0)
Fish, freshwater: 10% (11.1)
Birds: 6% (2.6)
Small animals: 5% (2.1)
Reptiles: 4% (2.0)
Horses: 2% (2.9)
Fish, saltwater: 2% (7.5)

Most owners dote on their pets by giving them treats and gifts. Nearly all dog owners (95 percent) dole out treats. So do 80 percent of cat owners and even 54 percent of the owners of reptiles. Gift giving is almost as prevalent as the provision of treats. Seventy-eight percent of dog owners give their dogs gifts, as do 67 percent of cat owners. Even reptile owners show generosity: 46 percent gave their reptile a gift in the past year, with 14 percent giving it a Christmas gift.


Pet Spending Rises 19%

No price is too high to pay for our pets, apparently. The average American household spent $710 on pets in 2017, according to a Demo Memo analysis of the Consumer Expenditure Survey. That’s a stunning 19 percent more than the average household spent on pets just a year earlier in 2016, after adjusting for inflation. Here is the trend since 2010…

Average household spending on pets (in 2017$)
2017: $710
2016: $596
2015: $546
2010: $540

The Consumer Expenditure Survey places pet spending in the entertainment category. With the 2017 surge in pet spending, pets have become the entertainment item on which the average household spends the most. What did it topple from the number-one spot? Cable and satellite television service.

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



Minority share of the population by metropolitan area…
Lowest: 4%in Parkersburgh-Marietta-Vienna, West Virginia
Highest: 97% in Laredo, Texas




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Nearly half of Americans (47%) took at least one prescription medication in the past month. Here is the percentage by age…
Under age 18: 22%
Aged 18 to 44: 37%
Aged 45 to 64: 69%
Aged 65-plus: 91%