Census Survey Reveals How The Recession Has Affected Lives

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WASHINGTON – A broad survey of Americans has provided striking measures of the recession’s effect on life at home and at work. Demographers said the latest figures were significant in highlighting how profoundly the recession affected Americans as it hit home in 2008. Findings come from the annual American Community Survey, a sweeping look at life built on information from 3 million households.

KEY FINDINGS

Putting Off Marriage

Marital bliss also suffered. Nearly 1 in 3 Americans 15 and over, or 31.2 percent, reported they had never been married, the highest level in a decade. The share had previously hovered for years around 27 percent, before beginning to climb during the housing downturn in 2006.

The never-married included three-quarters of men in their 20s and two-thirds of women in that age range. Sociologists say younger people are taking longer to reach economic independence and consider marriage because they are struggling to find work or focusing on an advanced education.

The Northeast had the most people who were delaying marriage, led by states such as New York and Massachusetts. People in the South were more likely to give marriage a try, including those in Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas.

Fewer Immigrant Residents

The dip in foreign-born residents comes as the government considers immigration changes, including stepped-up border enforcement and a path toward U.S. citizenship. At nearly 38 million, immigrants made up 12.5 percent of the population in 2008; an estimated 11.9 million are here illegally.

In three large metro areas, Miami, San Jose, Calif., and Los Angeles, more than one-third of all residents are foreign-born.

Roughly half the states showed declines in the number of immigrants from 2007 to 2008. Major metro areas also posted decreases, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Detroit and Tampa, Fla. An influx of workers from India, who came looking for specialized jobs in telecommunications, manufacturing, computers and software, partially offset the national immigration decrease.

About 1 in 5 U.S. residents spoke a language other than English at home, mostly clustered in California, New Mexico and Texas.

Health Care

Health coverage swung widely by region, based partly on levels of unemployment. Massachusetts, with its universal coverage law, had fewer than 1 in 20 uninsured residents – the lowest in the nation. Texas had the highest share, at 1 in 4, largely because of illegal immigrants excluded from government-sponsored and employer-provided plans.

The number of foreign-born and minority residents often tracked closely with how a state ranked in the levels of uninsured.

The highest numbers were in agricultural communities with large Hispanic populations in California’s San Joaquin Valley, South Texas and South Florida. Regions in New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma and Georgia also fared poorly.

The numbers help explain why the debate over illegal immigration and health insurance is so heated.

“The fact that many election ‘swing states,’ with large and growing Hispanic populations, rank low on health insurance for children and young adults points to the significance of this issue for both parties in future national elections,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution, a think tank.

Democratic proposals to overhaul health insurance would exclude illegal immigrants from benefits, but Republicans contend the prohibition is meaningless because of lax enforcement. President Barack Obama has now proposed broader and tougher restrictions; opponents say the steps are still not enough.

Other Findings from the Survey

  • The homeownership rate fell to 66.6 percent last year, the lowest in six years, after hitting a peak of 67.3 percent in 2006. Residents in crowded housing jumped to 1.1 percent, the highest since 2004, a sign people were “doubling up” with relatives or friends to save money.
  • More older people are working. About 15.5 percent of Americans 65 and over, or 6.1 million, were in the labor force. That’s up from 15 percent in 2007.
  • Preliminary data earlier this year found that many Americans were not moving, staying put in big cities rather than migrating to the Sunbelt because of frozen lines of credit. Mobility is at a 60-year low, upending population trends ahead of the 2010 census that will be used to apportion House seats.
  • Average work commute times edged up to 25.5 minutes, erasing years of decreases to stand at the level of 2000, as people had to leave home earlier in the morning to pick up friends for their ride to work or to catch a bus or subway train.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative news, the effects of the recession haven’t been all bad.

Positive Effects

  • The share of people who carpooled to work rose to 10.7 percent, up from 10.4 percent in the previous year. Commuters who took public transportation increased to 5 percent, the highest in six years, with Washington, D.C., at the top.
  • Women’s average pay still lagged men’s, but the gap has been narrowing. Women with full-time jobs made 77.9 percent of men’s pay, up from 77.5 percent in 2007 and about 64 percent in 2000.
  • More people are getting high school diplomas. Only two states, Texas and Mississippi, had at least 1 in 5 adults without high school diplomas. This is down from 17 states in 2000 and 37 in 1990.

How has the recession affected your life? Sound off in the comments.

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