American Consumers Newsletter

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

Life Expectancy Declines, Again


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1. Hot Trends 


Life Expectancy Declines, Again

Big, big news: Life expectancy at birth fell for the second year in a row in 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This is the first two-year life expectancy decline since flu outbreaks in 1962 and 1963 drove life expectancy down, according to NCHS . Life expectancy at birth in 2016 was 78.6 years, 0.1 year less than in 2015. Life expectancy at birth peaked at 78.9 years in 2014.

Drug overdose deaths are behind the life expectancy decline. There were 63,632 overdose deaths in 2016–21 percent (!) more than in 2015. The increase in drug overdose deaths has managed to rearrange the list of leading causes of death. “Unintentional injuries,” which includes most drug overdose deaths, is now the 3rd leading cause of death. It was 4th in 2015.

Drug overdose deaths are highest among 25-to-54-year-olds and uncommon among people aged 65 or older. In fact, life expectancy at age 65 increased by 0.1 years in 2016 to 19.4 years as death rates from heart disease and cancer declined.

7 of 10 Fastest-Growing States Are in West

Seven of the 10 fastest-growing states between 2016 and 2017 were in the West, according to the Census Bureau’s population estimates. Those seven are Idaho (up 2.2 percent), Nevada (2.0 percent), Utah (1.9 percent), Washington (1.7 percent), Arizona (1.6 percent), Colorado (1.4 percent), and Oregon (1.4 percent). Outside the West, Florida (1.6 percent), Texas (1.4 percent), and the District of Columbia (1.4 percent) also made the top-10 list.

Looking at the bigger picture, these are the fastest-growing states since 2010…

Fastest-growing states, 2010 to 2017
1. District of Columbia: 14.7%
2. Texas: 12.1%
3. North Dakota 12.0%
4. Utah: 11.8%
5. Florida: 11.3%
6. Colorado: 11.1%
7. Nevada: 10.9%
8. Washington: 9.9%
9. Arizona: 9.5%
10. Idaho: 9.3%

Nine of the 10 fastest-growing states between 2010 and 2017 are also on the 2016-17 list. North Dakota is the only state that dropped off the list. North Dakota ranked third in growth between 2010 and 2017, but between 2016 and 2017 it was one of eight states that lost population. The other losing states were Louisiana, Mississippi, Hawaii, Alaska, Illinois, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Metros with the Highest Rates of Homeownership, 2016

Among the nation’s 75 largest metropolitan areas, these are the 10 with the highest rates of homeownership in 2016, according to the Census Bureau

1. 76.2% in Grand Rapids, MI
2. 74.9% in Akron, OH
3. 73.4% in Sarasota, FL
4. 72.2% in Pittsburgh, PA
5. 71.6% in Detroit, MI
6. 69.2% in Omaha, NE
7. 69.2% in Salt Lake City, UT
8. 69.1% in Minneapolis, MN
9. 68.9% in Allentown, PA
10. 68.7% in Birmingham, AL

Why Small-Town America Is in Decline

One year ago, Demo Memo posted a list of 10 demographic questions that could be answered by data released in 2017. Some of the 10 questions were answered, such as “Are Americans getting richer? The answer is yes, according to the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances. But the question, “What will save small-town and rural America?” was not answered. Instead, 2017 only added to the accumulating evidence of small-town ruin, from greater health problems to the disappearance of the American Dream. Not only are we at a loss to solve small-town problems, but we don’t even know what’s causing them.

Until now: In a year-end opinion piece, The Gambler’s Ruin of Small Cities, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman provides a compelling explanation for small-town woes. He compares the plight of small towns to gamblers betting with pennies. The gambler who starts out with the smallest number of pennies is the one most likely to end up bankrupt. This is what’s known as the “gambler’s ruin.” Small towns today have few pennies (economic opportunities) to play with and so eventually face gambler’s ruin. “It makes sense to think of urban destinies as a random process of wins and losses in which small cities face a relatively high likelihood of experiencing gambler’s ruin,” explains Krugman.

Unfortunately, neither Krugman nor anyone else has a way to save small towns from gambler’s ruin. It’s all in the numbers. As Krugman explains: “For generations we have lived in an economy in which smaller cities have nothing going for them except historical luck, which eventually runs out.”

Higher Earnings = Wedding Bells
The more men earn, the more likely they’re married, according to Census Bureau data. The percentage of all men who are currently married ranges from a low of 37 percent for those with earnings below $15,000 to a high of 79 percent for those earning $100,000 or more. The pattern is the same in every age group of men from 25 to 64. These are the numbers for men aged 30 to 34…
% of men 30-34 who are married by personal earnings, 2017
Less than $15,000: 26%
$15,000 to $24,999: 40%
$25,000 to $39,999: 42%
$40,000 to $74,999: 55%
$75,000 to $99,999: 66%
$100,000 or more: 67%

90% of Americans Are HS Graduates

The percentage of Americans aged 25 or older who have completed high school reached an all-time high of 90 percent in 2017, reports the Census Bureau, and the percentage with a bachelor’s degree hit a high of 34 percent. The share of the population with a bachelor’s degree today exceeds the share of the population with a high school diploma in 1950…

% of Americans aged 25-plus with high school diploma
2017: 90%
2010: 87%
2000: 84%
1990: 78%
1980: 69%
1970: 55%
1960: 41%
1950: 33%
1940: 24%

Trouble for Workers with Little Education
“All occupations are employing workers with more formal education,” reports the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and this is bad news for less-educated Americans. Comparing the education of workers by occupation in 1950 with today, the study finds…

Professional and technical workers: Only half had a college degree in 1950. Today, 70 percent are college graduates. One in ten professional/technical workers in 1950 did not have a high school diploma. Today the figure is close to zero. The “empiricist professional” of 1950 has all but disappeared, say the researchers.

Managers: In 1950, more than three out of four had no schooling beyond high school, and many did not even have a high school diploma. Today, three out of four have at least some college, and 46 percent have a college degree.

Sales, clerical, craftsmen, and service workers: The great majority–close to 80 percent or above–had no more than a high school diploma in 1950. Today, more than half of sales and clerical workers have at least some college as do about 40 percent of craftsmen and service workers.

Operative workers (machine operators), farmers, and laborers: Virtually no operative workers had a college degree in 1950. Today, 30 percent are college graduates. The figures are similar for farmers and laborers.

“Needless to say, these changes have led to additional challenges for some groups of workers,” concludes the report. “Those with lower levels of education may be unable to find jobs in occupations that their parents held with much less formal schooling.”

Poor Mental Health Is Common among Young Adults

On how many days in the past month has your mental health not been good? When asked that question, the 55 percent majority of the public answers “none,” according to a Demo Memo analysis of the General Social Survey–their mental health is just fine, thank you. But a substantial 45 percent of Americans say their mental health has not been good on one or more days in the past month.

There are few differences in the percentage with poor mental health by race and Hispanic origin or education. But there are differences by sex: 49 percent of women versus a smaller 39 percent of men say their mental health has not been good on at least one day in the past month. There are even bigger differences by generation, with Millennials most likely to experience poor mental health…

One or more days of poor mental health in past month
Millennials (22 to 39): 48%
Gen Xers (40 to 51): 46%
Boomers (52 to 70): 41%
Older (71 or older): 36%

Similarly, 48 percent of Millennials admit to having ever felt like they were going to have a nervous breakdown, according to another question on the General Social Survey–a higher percentage than in any other generation. Among the oldest Americans, only 14 percent say they have ever felt like they were on the brink of a breakdown.

The Brewery Explosion

Pity the thirsty masses of 2006. Back then, there were only 398 breweries in the entire United States. Today, there are 2,843, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics–a more than seven-fold increase. In 2006, no state had more than 50 breweries. Today, 15 states have more than 50 and 10 states have more than 100. California has the most–333 in 2016, up from just 45 in 2006. Colorado is second with 204 breweries, up from 22 in 2006.

Not only are more breweries dotting the landscape, but there are also more brewery workers than ever before. After falling slightly between 2006 and 2010 as a consequence of the Great Recession, brewery employment surged 61 percent between 2010 and 2016 to more than 40,000. The rise in brewery employment accounted for more than half the employment growth in the U.S. beverage manufacturing industry during those years, the BLS reports.

Unfortunately, the trend in the average weekly wage for those working at breweries is not as impressive as brewery growth. Between 2006 and 2016, the average fell 25 percent to $969.

How Important Are Foreign-Born Workers to the Tech Industry?
Foreign-born workers are a large share of the information technology (IT) labor force in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics examines just how large, particularly in what it calls “creative IT professions,” which it defines as computer scientists and systems analysts, network systems analysts, web developers, computer programmers, software developers, and computer hardware engineers. The BLS analysis begins with the big picture–the foreign-born share of the labor force as a whole, then focuses on the foreign-born share of all IT jobs, and finally on the foreign-born share of creative IT jobs. Here are the findings…
  • Foreign-born workers accounted for 17 percent of the total U.S. labor force in 2014 (up from 7 percent in 1980).
  • Foreign-born workers accounted for 24 percent of workers in all IT occupations in 2014 (up from 7 percent in 1980).
  • Foreign-born workers accounted for 33 percent of workers in creative IT occupations (up from 8 percent in 1980).

The BLS analysis goes even deeper, drilling down to the foreign-born share of workers in creative IT occupations in what it calls “innovation-leading metropolitan areas,” defined as the five metros with the most patents in computer software and hardware–San Jose, Seattle, Austin, Portland (Oregon); and Raleigh. In these metros, fully 53 percent of workers in creative IT jobs are foreign-born (up from 11 percent in 1980). In Silicon Valley specifically, the foreign-born share is an enormous 71 percent (up from 15 percent in 1980).

The dominance of foreign-born workers in Silicon Valley might explain the perception that American technological success is dependent on the foreign-born, suggests the BLS report. “Outside the United States, there is a strong perception that fortunes of many successful U.S. companies rest almost exclusively on foreign-born labor, with little credit given to the native-born labor force,” says the report. But the facts say otherwise. Yes, foreign-born workers are a big part of the IT labor force, but the perception that they dominate the labor force may be “mostly due to Silicon Valley trends.”

Metros with the Lowest Rates of Homeownership 

Among the nation’s 75 largest metropolitan areas, these are the 10 with the lowest rate of homeownership in 2016, according to the Census Bureau

1. 47.1% in Los Angeles, CA
2. 49.9% in San Jose, CA
3. 50.4% in New York, NY
4. 51.3% in Las Vegas, NV
5. 53.3% in San Diego, CA
6. 55.8% in San Francisco, CA
7. 56.0% in Tucson, AZ
8. 56.0% in Fresno, CA
9. 56.5% in Austin, TX
10. 57.5% in Providence, RI

Cold Is a Bigger Killer

Among weather-related deaths, cold is a bigger killer than heat, flood, storm, or lightning, according to an analysis by the CDC

(Deaths Attributed to Heat, Cold, and Other Weather Events in the United States, 2006-2010). In the 2006-2010 time period, cold-weather deaths accounted for 62 percent of the 10,649 weather-related deaths in the United States.

During the time period under analysis, the cold-related death rate was 4.2 deaths per million population, the CDC reports. The rate was below average among people under age 45. It was slightly above average among those aged 45 to 74. The death rate climbs steeply in the 75-plus age groups. The rate was nearly four times the average among people aged 75 to 84 (15.5) and more than nine times the average among those aged 85 or older (39.6).

When Will Minorities Become the Majority of Voters?

Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities are projected to outnumber non-Hispanic Whites beginning in 2044, according to Census Bureau population projections. But when will minorities outnumber non-Hispanic Whites among voters? A Demo Memo analysis shows the minority-majority election will not occur in the time frame of the Census Bureau’s population projections, which extend to 2060.

In the 2016 presidential election, non-Hispanic Whites accounted for an out-sized 73 percent of voters, more than their 64 percent of the voting-age population. Behind their larger share of voters is the higher propensity of non-Hispanic Whites to vote. In 2016, nearly two-thirds of non-Hispanic White citizens cast a ballot (65 percent) versus 59 percent of Black, 50 percent of Asian, and 48 percent of Hispanic citizens.

Although non-Hispanic Whites will continue to dominate presidential-election voters in the decades ahead, their power will shrink considerably by 2060. Here is the projected non-Hispanic White share of voters in every presidential election from 2016 to 2060…

Non-Hispanic White share of voters in presidential elections

2016: 73%
2020: 71%
2024: 69%
2028: 67%
2032: 65%
2036: 63%
2040: 61%
2044: 59%
2048: 57%
2052: 55%
2056: 54%
2060: 52%

At this rate of decline, minorities may become the majority of voters in the presidential election of 2064 and most certainly in 2068.

Note: Demo Memo calculations based on voting rate of citizens in 2016 by race and Hispanic origin applied to Census Bureau population projections by race and Hispanic origin. Population projections adjusted for citizenship status by race and Hispanic origin in 2016.

Is Racism Receding?

Is racism receding in younger generations? That’s one of the issues probed by PRRI and MTV in a nationally representative survey of 15-to-24-year-olds. Survey respondents were asked how much they agreed with the statement: “Racism is more of a problem for other generations than it is for my generation.” The 55 percent majority of 15-to-24-year-olds disagreed, believing that racism is as big a problem for them as it is for older Americans. But a substantial 45 percent agreed, believing that racism is receding. Young White men are most likely to think racism is less of a problem in their generation, young Blacks are least likely to think so…

Racism is more of a problem for other generations (percent of 15-to-24-year-olds who agree)
White men: 55%
Hispanics: 45%
White women: 41%
Asians: 35%
Blacks: 34%

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


Owner-occupied homes have a median age of 40. Half were built before 1978 and half after.


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Among married couples, 24% of husbands and 5% of wives earn at least $50,000 more than their spouse.