Monday, April 27, 2015

Debt of Retirees

Nine percent of the nation's retirees say debt is a major problem for them, and another 22 percent say it's a minor problem. Here is the percentage of retirees with debt by type...

Credit card: 27%
Mortgage: 23%
Car loan: 17%
Home equity loan: 17%
Medical debt: 14%
Student loan: 3%

Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey

Friday, April 24, 2015

Household Income Falls in March 2015

Median household income stood at $54,203 in March 2015, according to Sentier Research. This was 0.8 percent ($436) lower than the February median, a statistically significant decline. Despite the decline, the March 2015 median was 2.1 percent higher than the March 2014 median and 5.5 percent above the $51,358 median of August 2011—the low point in Sentier's household income series. 

"Even though there was an income decline between February and March," says Sentier's Gordon Green, "there has been a general upward trend in median income since the low point reached in August 2011." Sentier's median household income estimates are derived from the Census Bureau's monthly Current Population Survey. 


Median household income in March 2015 was 1.7 percent below the median of June 2009, the end of the Great Recession. It was 3.5 percent below the median of December 2007, the start of the Great Recession. It was 4.6 percent below the median of January 2000. The Household Income Index for March 2015 stood at 95.4 (January 2000 = 100.0).


Source: Sentier ResearchHousehold Income Trends: March 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Worker Confidence in Retirement on the Rise

Twenty-two percent of workers are very confident they will have enough money for a comfortable retirement, according to the 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey. This figure is up from a record low of 13 percent following the Great Recession. Another 36 percent of workers are somewhat confident they will have enough.

But will the retirement plans of today's workers pan out? The experiences of today's retirees suggest they may not. Half of retirees in the 2015 survey say they retired earlier than planned, while a smaller 40 percent retired as planned. That's why the median age at which retirees say they retired (62) has not changed over the decades despite the fact that a growing share of workers plan to stay on the job until age 66-plus or never retire—the figure rising from 15 to 46 percent between 1995 and 2015.

Why do retirees leave the work force sooner than expected? Among 2015 retirees who retired earlier than planned, the single biggest reason was a worrisome one—health problems, cited by 60 percent. The second biggest reason (more than one could be cited) was positive: 31 percent were able to afford an earlier retirement. This was followed by downsizing or closure of their company (27 percent), having to care for a family member (22 percent), the desire to do something else (17 percent), and changes in the skills required for their job (10 percent).

With half of retirees leaving the workforce sooner than expected, today's workers need more than a retirement plan. They need a Retirement Plan B.

Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

American Driving Survey

American drivers add 29.2 miles a day to their odometer—an average of 10,658 miles a year. They make two trips a day, on average, and spend 46 minutes behind the wheel. These numbers vary by demographic characteristic, according to the American Driving Survey. Sponsored by AAA and developed in partnership with the Urban Institute, the survey examines the demographics of driving.
  • Women make more daily trips than men (2.2 versus 1.9), but men spend more time behind the wheel (51 minutes for men versus 41 minutes for women) and travel greater distances (34 versus 25 miles).
  • Those who spend the most time driving are 30-to-49-year-olds. This age group makes 2.3 trips a day, drives 36 miles, and spends 54 minutes on the road.
  • Americans who live in cities or medium-sized towns average 2.0 trips per day, not much different than the 2.1 trips per day for those who live in the countryside or small towns. But rural and small town residents drive longer distances (34 miles per day) than those who live in cities and medium-sized towns (27 miles). Those miles add up over a year, with rural folks putting an average of 12,264 miles on their odometer each year versus 9,709 for their urban counterparts. 
  • On an average day, most drivers drive. Only 32 percent of American drivers did not drive on the survey's reporting day. 
The American Driving Survey examines in more detail the driving habits of teenagers aged 16 to 19 and people aged 75 or older. Not surprisingly, the percentage of teens who drive almost every day rises with age, from 25.7 percent among 16-year-olds to 50.5 percent among 19-year-olds. Among people aged 75 or older, 46 percent drive almost every day and 30 percent say they never drive.

Source: The Urban Institute and AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, American Driving Survey: Methodology and Year 1 Results, May 2013-May 2014

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2002 High School Sophomores, 10 Years Later

The 57 percent majority of 2002 high school sophomores had earned a postsecondary credential by 2012-13, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Educational attainment of 2002 high school sophomores in 2012-13
Master's degree or more: 8%
Bachelor's degree: 33%
Associate's degree: 10%
Undergraduate certificate: 7%
30+ postsecondary credits, no credential: 20%
0 to 30 postsecondary credits, no credential: 22%

In a longitudinal survey of high school sophomores, the federal government asked 10th graders in 2002 about their educational expectations. Ten years later, researchers compared expectations with reality and found they don't always align. Among 10th graders who expected to earn a bachelor's degree, a substantial 43 percent had no postsecondary credentials 10 years later and only 40 percent had earned a bachelor's degree.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002): A First Look at the Postsecondary Transcripts of 2002 High School Sophomores

Monday, April 20, 2015

Health Insurance by Region, 2014

Overall, 16.7 percent of adults aged 18 to 64 were without health insurance when interviewed by the National Health Interview Survey in January-September 2014. Health insurance coverage of working-age adults varies greatly by region...

Percent of 18-to-64-year-olds without health insurance
  7.8% in New England states
12.7% in Middle Atlantic states
13.6% in East North Central states
13.7% in West North Central states
16.1% in Pacific states
16.7% in East South Central states
18.0% in Mountain states
20.4% in South Atlantic states
25.2% in West South Central states

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Health Insurance Coverage: Early Release of Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, January-September 2014

Friday, April 17, 2015

Navigating by Smartphone

Two out of three (67 percent) smartphone owners use their phones for turn-by-turn navigation while driving, according to a Pew Research Center report. Here is the percentage of smartphone owners who do so by age...

Aged 18 to 29: 80%
Aged 30 to 49: 72%
Aged 50 to 64: 52%
Aged 65-plus: 37%

Source: Pew Research Center, The Smartphone: An Essential Travel Guide

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How Many $1 Bills?

Economists study many things and one of them is cash, tracing its flow into and out of your wallet. They collect information about how we use cash through the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice, in which a representative sample of the public records its purchases for three days. The survey collects information on how much cash people have at the beginning of each day (including cash denominations) and how they pay for purchases throughout the day. Here are a few of the findings from the 2012 survey...

Percentage of consumers...
With cash at the beginning of the day: 81%
With a $1 bill at the beginning of the day: 64%
Who made a cash transaction during the day: 50%

At the start of the day, consumers had a median of two $1 bills. That's not some random number. The Fed analysis finds that we actively manage our $1 bills. We don't want too many, but we also don't want to be without. The sweet spot—the target number of $1 bills we want in our wallet—is between two and three.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, U.S. Consumer Holdings and Use of $1 Bills

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Unemployed in the Past 10 Years

More than one-third of Americans (37 percent) have been unemployed for as long as a month at some point in the past 10 years, according to results from the 2014 General Social Survey. These are the percentages by generation...

Unemployed for as long as a month in past 10 years
Millennials: 55%
Gen Xers: 38%
Boomers: 30%

Note: In 2014, Millennials were 20 to 37, Gen Xers were 38 to 49, Boomers were 50 to 68.
Source: Demo Memo analysis of the 2014 General Social Survey

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How Many Children?

Percent distribution of women aged 45 to 50 (the age at which women have completed their childbearing) by number of children ever born...

17% have had no children
19% have had one child
34% have had two children
19% have had three children
  8% have had four children
  4% have had five or more children

Source: Census Bureau, Fertility of Women in the United States: 2014

Monday, April 13, 2015

Teens and Smartphones

Nearly three out of four teenagers has a smartphone, according to a Pew Research Center report. Overall, 73 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds has a smartphone, and this figure does not vary much by demographic characteristic...

Teen smartphone ownership by age
Aged 13 to 14: 68%
Aged 15 to 17: 76%

Teen smartphone ownership by race and Hispanic origin
Black: 85%
Hispanic: 71%
Non-Hispanic White: 71%

Eighty-seven percent of teenagers have access to a desktop or laptop computer, 81 percent to a gaming console, and 58 percent to a tablet computer.

Source: Pew Research Center, Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

Where Americans Shop for Food

When Americans shop for food, they don't head to the nearest grocery store, according to the USDA's Economic Research Service. On average, the nearest grocery store is 2.14 miles from their home, but they travel 3.79 miles to get to the grocery store they use most often.

Nearly 9 out of 10 households (88 percent) travel to their primary grocery store in their own vehicle, and 7 percent use someone else's car. Six percent of grocery shoppers get to their primary store by walking or using public transportation.

Food shoppers are split between super centers (such as Walmart) and supermarkets as their primary grocery store. Forty-four percent use super centers, 45 percent use supermarkets, and the remainder use other types of stores.

Source: USDA Economic Research Service, Where Do Americans Usually Shop for Food and How Do They Travel to Get There? Initial Findings from the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Financial Satisfaction Is No Guarantee

If you feel like your finances are in good shape, you might be in danger. That's because, more often than not, feelings don't reflect reality. According to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, "financial satisfaction is a poor indicator of financial well-being and can actually impede the achievement of financial well-being."

In the study, the researchers compared survey respondents' self-reported financial satisfaction with their actual long-term financial well-being (defined as having adequate medical and life insurance, saving for college and retirement, and paying off student loans and mortgages). They found a disconnect between feelings and reality. The feeling of financial satisfaction comes from day-to-day money matters (such as being employed, able to pay bills, not feeling burdened by debt, and having access to emergency cash) rather than long-term financial health. "Given this intensely present-minded focus of subjective assessments, satisfaction is a poor measure of financial well-being," the researchers concluded.

What can be done to eliminate this blind spot and improve the average American's financial security? The researchers suggest "greater use of defaults or mandates, or the transfer of responsibility from households to governments or employers, to reduce the nation's significantly increased reliance on individual household decision-making for basic financial well-being."

Source: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, What Do Subjective Assessments of Financial Well-Being Reflect?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Americans Are Traveling Less

Americans are traveling less than they did before the Great Recession, according to data collected by the Consumer Expenditure Survey. The number of domestic trips taken by American households fell 14 percent between 2006 and 2013, from 230 million to 198 million. The number of international trips fell 25 percent during those years, from 17 million to 13 million. Neither domestic nor international travel show recovery from the Great Recession.

In an analysis of the CES travel data, BLS economist Geoffrey D. Paulin finds a surprise. Although the number of trips has declined, the length of trips has increased a bit. On domestic trips in 2013, households spent an average of 4.1 nights away from home—up from 3.8 nights in 2006. On international trips in 2013, households spent 12.6 nights away, up from 10.5 in 2006.

Households spent an average of $583 on each domestic trip in 2013—about 4 percent more than the $568 spent in 2006, after adjusting for inflation. Not surprisingly, households spent more on international travel—an average of $3,273 per trip in 2013. This is 16 percent more than the $2,830 spent in 2006.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review, Travel Expenditures, 2005-2013: Domestic and International Patterns in Recession and Recovery