Census has some bright spots, but experts warn of woes
The latest U.S. Census Bureau release on Thursday confirms what researchers and economists have been saying for years: America is getting older, richer, and more unequal.
Household incomes nationally ticked up by 0.8% between 2017 and 2018. Although a smaller increase than in previous years, it marks the second year in a row that the national average household income was higher than in 2007, the year before the Great Recession.
Other measures, however, point to future troubles.
For one, income inequality is on the rise. Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., New York, and Connecticut top the list of U.S. states and territories with the highest measures of income inequality. Utah and Alaska are among the most equal.
“Even though the typical household is doing better, the gains and the growth have disproportionately gone to the upper income households,” said Richard Fry, senior researcher at Pew Research Center.
Colorado ranks 12th in the nation for median household income, at $71,953 last year. It is the 18th most unequal state when it comes to income inequality, according to the latest Census figures.
In Pueblo County, the median household income was $48,468 in 2018.
Racial and ethnic disparities also persist. While most households are seeing the same income now as they were before the recession, African-American households have not recovered as quickly, Fry said.
The figures released Thursday showed that median household incomes in white households hovered at $65,902 nationally, compared to $41,511 for black households. Meanwhile, Asian households saw median incomes of $87,243.
The one-year American Community Survey has been released annually since 2005. While less precise than the better-known decennial census, the survey is the most up-to-date snapshot available of a broad swath of American social and economic measures, with data collected between January and December 2018.
Many researchers watch the survey to measure how well the country is doing in the wake of the recession. Many say the weak recovery is related to the continued reluctance of young adults to have children and form households.
Ken Johnson, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy, said fertility patterns were affected by the recession to a degree not seen since the Great Depression.
Thursday’s data didn’t show much sign of improvement, he said.
“We’re talking about 400,000 fewer babies being born a year,” said Johnson. “That’s a lot less baby food being sold, that’s a lot less toys being bought, and that will echo all the way up through the economy.”
According to the latest survey, the fertility rate among women ages 15 to 50 is 11% lower than in 2009, even though there are more women of childbearing age. The decline cut across racial and ethnic categories, Johnson said.
Colorado's fertility rate has closely mirrored the national trend. For every 1,000 women aged 15 to 50, there were 55 births in 2010 and 52 births in both 2017 and 2018. Colorado's rank among states has been 26th or 27th each of those years.
In 2018, North Dakota and Utah tied for the nation's highest fertility rate with 66 births for every 1,000 women while Delaware ranked last with 45.
In Pueblo County, the fertility rate is 73 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, according to the data.
In virtually every state, more people are also postponing marriage. And if they have children at all, they’re starting later, according to the data.
Women nationwide waited an extra year and a half to get married from 2010 to 2018, according to the latest averages. The median age for a woman to exchange vows for the first time is now 28.3 years old.
And the survey results show that for the first time, the American man is waiting until his 30s to get married — with the average age at 30.1 years old.
“It’s as if the whole life cycle is being delayed,” said Johnson. “Getting married is being delayed, having children within marriage is being delayed, and how many children people are having is getting delayed.”
On average, the average age for marriage was 27.9 years old for women and 29.9 for men in Colorado, similar to national averages.
The consequences could be dramatic as more and more baby boomers head into retirement, experts said. With fewer working-age adults contributing economically, experts say it is more important to encourage immigration and invest in youth.
Researchers expect the 2020 decennial census to show that more than half of the population under 18 years old will be non white, said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
That’s concerning, he said, as socioeconomic disparities persist for black and Latino/Hispanic families.
“It makes the case that investment needs to be made in not only them but in general,” Frey said, “because these children are going to be part of our future labor force.”
The census figures showed the population of foreign-born residents also declined slightly last year, according to Frey. Immigration from Latin America in particular decreased heavily during the recession and has not fully bounced back.
“The last several years, there have been as many Asians coming to the U.S. as people from Latin America,” Frey said.
The release contained other positive socioeconomic signs.
Employment made continued gains since the recession, with 4.7% of the labor force unemployed in 2018 versus 5% the year before. That’s compared to 2010, when Americans had just begun their slow rise from the recession and when the unemployment rate stood at 10.5%.
Unemployment in Colorado dropped dramatically since the recession, when it was at 9.5 percent. Last year, about 3.6 percent of the labor force in the state was unemployed, better than the national average.
In Pueblo County, the unemployment rate in 2018 was 6%.
More U.S. residents also finished high school than in previous years. According to the survey, 11.7% of the population reported last year they had not completed high school, down from 12% the year before.