American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
July 2007

The Road Less-And Less-Traveled




The Road Less-and Less-Traveled

What is wrong with this picture: We live in the third largest country in the world, yet the average American gets only 13 vacation days a year. We have 3.5 million square miles to explore, yet our spare time is so tight we can barely make it through airport security before we are due back in the office. Who made these rules?

The Europeans must feel sorry for us. The British get 28 vacation days a year on average, the Germans 35, and the French 37. And they have a lot less territory to cover. Maybe it is time for a new quality-of-life statistic, the How Much of Your Country Have You Seen Indicator, calculated by dividing vacation days by square miles times 1 million. Higher is better. The French have 37 days a year to explore their 211,000 square miles. We have 13 days a year to explore 3.5 million square miles. The French indicator is a lofty 175.2. Ours is a measly 3.7. You can bet the French are much more familiar with their geography than we are with ours.

If you combine the stinginess of employers in doling out vacation days with the increasingly busy schedules of two-earner families, it is no wonder many Americans have seen little of the United States outside of airports and amusement parks. It explains why most 18-to-24-year olds cannot find Ohio on a map. Twenty-six percent of the nation’s supposedly footloose young adults have not crossed a state line in the past three years, according to a National Geographic-Roper survey.

In a desperate attempt to remedy the situation, the online travel companies Orbitz and Expedia are generating surveys critical of America’s scrooge mentality when it comes to time off. The 2007 Orbitz survey finds 27 percent of Americans skipped a vacation altogether in the past year. The 2007 Expedia survey reports that the proportion of workers taking two weeks off at one time has fallen to just 14 percent.

The fallout from our overworked lives extends beyond our lack of familiarity with our own backyard. It is emptying our greatest treausre-the national parks. Although the U.S. population has groaned past the 300 million mark, the number of visitors to the national parks is in decline, according to the National Park Service. From a peak of 287 million visitors in 1999, the number fell to 273 million by 2006. The American road trip appears to be going the way of train travel- fondly remembered but rarely undertaken. The national parks in the vast middle of the United States, such as Badlands National Park in South Dakota, are experiencing some of the greatest declines. Since hitting a peak of 1.5 million visitors in 1991, the number of visitors to the Badlands has fallen by 45 percent.

By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications
If you have any questions or comments about the above editorial, e-mail New Strategist at



Rank of watching television among the daily activities to which Americans devote the most time: 3.


2. Q&A

How Much Do Americans Spend on Travel?

We spend a lot on travel, but not as much as we once did. In 2005, the average household spent $1,295 on airline fares, hotels and motels, restaurant meals, park passes, and all the other costs of travel, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey. This was 4 percent less than in 2000, after adjusting for inflation. Households cut their spending on most travel categories: vehicle rental expenses shrank 32 percent, airfares 8 percent, recreational expenses on trips 15 percent, and restaurant meals on trips 3 percent. Not surprisingly, spending on gasoline while traveling rose by a substantial 15 percent.

The decline in travel spending is occurring at the wrong time. Average household spending on travel should be at a record level now that the large baby-boom generation is in the peak- traveling age group. Households headed by people aged 55 to 64 spend more on travel than any other. What is wrong?

Three problems confront the U.S. travel industry. First, much of the middle class is in economic distress as it copes with rising costs for gasoline, mortgage interest, health insurance, and college tuition. Two, the paucity of vacation days for American workers coupled with the complex lives of today’s two-earner families makes scheduling vacations increasingly difficult. Three, we are spending more of our discretionary dollars on other items, namely big-screen TVs. Between 2000 and 2005, average household spending on entertainment climbed 13 percent, after adjusting for inflation. Most of the increase was devoted to television sets and cable service. Average household spending on televisions climbed by an enormous 52 percent between 2000 and 2005. Spending on cable service rose 42 percent during those years. Households that spend $1,600 on a 42-inch LCD TV do not have much left over for a road trip. And with an average of more than 100 television channels to watch, they have fewer reasons to leave home.

There is one bit of good news in all these numbers. Television sets are not a recurring expense, which means next year may be better for the travel industry-but only if Americans can be lured away from their TVs.

By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications
If you have any questions or comments about the above Q & A, e-mail New Strategist at



Percentage of households with no discretionary income: 35.



To keep up-to-date on ever-changing demographics and lifestyles, check out these useful web sites.

Measuring the Media
Whether you think the press is too liberal or too conservative, this site will help you sort out its future. Here you will find the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a nonpartisan research center that evaluates the performance of the press. The project, which is part of the Pew Research Center, analyzes the content and audience for news on television, in newspapers and magazines, and on the Internet and radio. One of its activities is production of an annual state-of-the-media report. The 2007 report notes that 26 million people watch network evening news on an average day, an audience that is shrinking by 1 million people a year. Fifty-one million Americans buy a daily newspaper, but circulation fell 2.8 percent in the six months ending in September 2006. Thirty-one percent of Americans went online for news yesterday, but the figure has leveled off. Where will Americans get their news in the future? This site will help you figure it out.

National Park Statistics
So you want to know how many people visit the nation’s national parks, or just your favorite national park, or just national parks in South Dakota. You can find out all this and more from the National Park Service’s Public Use Statistics Office at this site. Among the nation’s national parks, monuments, recreational areas, and historic sites, the Blue Ridge Parkway had the most visitors in 2006-19 million. In second place, at 13 million, was the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Four million people visited the Grand Canyon. Numbers for each park are available as far back as 1904.



Percentage of workers expecting to retire at age 65 or older: 56.



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NEW American Time Use: Who Spends How Long at What
American Time Use: Who Spends How Long at What presents the details about how people spend their time by the single most important factor determining time use–their age. New Strategist’s statisticians analyzed the raw time use data to give you exclusive percentages of people participating in activities, the indexes, and the rankings–each of which reveals significant differences in time use by lifecycle stage. $89.95 (ISBN 978-1-933588-27-8; 480 pgs.; hardcover; June 2007). Need it now? Download it today from New Strategist’s web site,

NEW The American Marketplace: Demographics and Spending Patterns, 8th ed.
Quick and easy access is the goal of the new eighth edition of The American Marketplace: Demographics and Spending Patterns, which The Wall Street Journal said “should be on your bookshelf”. Designed for convenience, The American Marketplace draws on scores of government and proprietary sources to give you a population profile of the United States in one handy volume. Its hundreds of tables are organized into nine chapters on education, health, housing, income, labor force, living arrangements, population, spending, and wealth. $89.95 (ISBN 978-1-933588-23-0; 532 pgs.; hardcover; June 2007). Need it now? Download it today from New Strategist’s web site,

NEW American Health: Demographics and Spending of Health Care Consumers, 2nd ed.
American Health: Demographics and Spending of Health Care Consumers focuses on health care consumers rather than industry statistics and reveals future market and policy needs. Its fourteen chapters examine the whole gamut of our physical and mental wellbeing– addictions, aging, alternative medicine, births, deaths, disability, diseases, health care coverage, health care visits, hospital care, mental health, sexual attitudes and behavior, weight and exercise, and attitudes toward health care. $89.95 (ISBN 978-1-933588-26-1; 448 pgs.; hardcover; June 2007). Need it now? Download it today from New Strategist’s web site,

NEW American Incomes: Demographics of Who Has Money, 6th ed.
(The first edition of American Incomes was selected as a Best Reference Source by Library Journal.) The new sixth edition of American Incomes: Demographics of Who Has Money explores and explains the economic status of Americans and includes an analysis of hard-to-get discretionary income figures, produced by New Strategists statisticians specifically for this book. 89.95 (ISBN 978-1-933588-26-1; 448 pgs.; hardcover; June 2007). Need it now? Download it today from New Strategist’s web site,

To see detailed lists of all the data tables in every New Strategist book, plus the books’ introductions, indexes, bibliographies, and sample pages, go to



Percentage of Americans who are physically inactive: 25.