Topic Archives: Consumer Spending

By the Numbers: Spending Habits of Older Americans

Editor’s note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog. The writer is Ann C. Foster, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

An image depicting the different items older and younger households spend their money on.

It’s no secret that people’s needs and spending habits change over time. For Older Americans Month, we took a look into the data to highlight some of the spending changes. Check out these Consumer Expenditure Survey fast facts and see how your spending stacks up to that of the older generation:

  • Older households are more apt to be homeowners (79 percent) than younger households (57 percent). Please note: By “older households,” we mean those with a reference person (often the principal homeowner or renter) 65 years and older, and by “younger households” we mean those with a reference person under 65 years.
  • Housing is the greatest expense, both in dollar amount ($15,529) and as a share of the household budget (34.8 percent) among older households.
  • Older and younger households are similar in that 85 percent of older households and 88 percent of younger households own or lease at least one vehicle.
  • Transportation expenses among older households, however, are lower in dollar amount ($6,846) and as a share of the household budget (15.3 percent) compared with younger households ($10,310 and 17.4 percent, respectively). That’s probably because older households have fewer earners and would be less likely to have job-related transportation costs.
  • Because older households have fewer earners, pensions and Social Security costs are much lower in dollar amount ($2,401) and as a share of the household budget (5.4 percent) among older households compared with younger households ($7,118 and 12 percent).
  • Out-of-pocket healthcare expenses are higher in dollar amount ($5,766) and as a share of the household budget (12.9 percent) among older households compared with younger households ($3,912 and 6.6 percent).
  • Clothing is often a job-related expense that should decrease when household members retire. This could be one reason clothing expenses are lower among older households ($1,060 and 2.4 percent) than younger households ($2,079 and 3.5 percent).
  • Cash contributions (everything from charitable donations to child support payments) among older households are higher: $2,287 and 5.1 percent, compared with $1,676 and 2.8 percent for younger households.
  • Social Security, private pension and government retirement payments account for more than half (51.3 percent or $23,912) of the pretax income of older households. Among younger households these sources account for only 3.8 percent ($2,900) of pretax income.

Why This Counts: How the Consumer Price Index Affects You

Editor’s note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog. The writer is Steve Reed, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Every month, Debi Bertram, an economic assistant in our Philadelphia region, checks the price of milk at a local grocery store. She also goes to several stores to check the prices of items such as toothpaste, sports equipment, and appliances. You may not know Debi—or any of the men and women who collect data for the Bureau of Labor Statistics—but their findings have a real impact on your life.

Among other things, the data are used for making changes in the federal income tax structure and providing cost-of-living wage adjustments for millions of American workers. Additionally, the president, Congress, and the Federal Reserve Board use trends in the data to inform fiscal and monetary policies.

How does it work? BLS data collectors visit or call thousands of locations across the country, from grocery stores to doctors’ offices, to get the prices of about 80,000 different items every month. The data help BLS compile the Consumer Price Index, which measures the average change over time in prices consumers pay for a market basket of goods and services. It is the key measure of consumer inflation in the U.S. economy.

Just got paid

Person's Hand Giving CheckIt’s very possible the CPI helps determine how big your paycheck is. Many employers use the CPI, formally or informally, to decide how much of a cost-of-living raise to give employees. Additionally, many states index their minimum wage by the overall CPI increase. The CPI helps determine how much comes out of your paycheck too, as the IRS uses it to adjust tax bracket thresholds. And many states use CPI data to calculate and adjust workers’ compensation payments.

 

The check’s in the mail

Woman inserting letter into a mailboxMailing a birthday card? The CPI helps determine how much it costs. The Postal Regulatory Commission uses CPI data in the decision about price increases for stamps and postal fees.

 

 

 

 

Back to school

Smiling student eating her lunch.The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services uses CPI data to determine the annual payments and rate adjustments for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The CPI is also consulted to adjust thresholds for eligibility to these programs.

 

 

 

 

Got to pay the rent

Hand holding money with a house in the background.The CPI may even affect where you live. Many landlords tie rent changes to CPI increases; in some cities rent increases for some properties cannot exceed the increase in the CPI. The CPI may also come into play if you want to rent government facilities; the CPI for rent is used to adjust fees for using federal facilities.

You can find out more about how the CPI affects your economic life from the CPI webpage.

Ice Cream versus Bacon

Editor’s note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog. The writer is Steve Henderson. When not relaxing with a bowl of ice cream, Steve is a supervisory economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. He’s spent half of his government career working on the Consumer Price Index and half on the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

How much did you spend on ice cream last year? According to the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average U.S. household spent around $54. But why does BLS need to know that?

Let’s take a deep dive into that ice cream. That’s just one of thousands of data we collect to calculate the Consumer Price Index, a monthly assessment of price changes for goods and services in the United States. The CPI has separate inflation indexes for just about everything people purchase. For example, the CPI has an index for “Bacon and related products,” and lots of other itemized food categories, including “Ice cream and related products.”

(Curious about what else we measure? Here’s the CPI’s online table generator tool. You can drill down to the most detailed CPI categories in step 2. Note: You’ll need to enable Java to see the chart.)

Why so many indexes? The CPI needs to carefully track how the prices of food, and just about everything else, change because not every item’s price goes up or down at the same rate. For example, bacon has increased in price almost 32 percent over the past 10 years, while ice cream went up 21 percent over the same time period.

A graphic showing trends in ice cream prices and bacon prices from 2007 to 2017.

Looking at how prices have moved over the last year, bacon is slightly less expensive than it was in January 2016, while the price of ice cream has gone up slightly. This information is helpful for families looking to see where their food budget money went, as well as researchers investigating changing food prices and other indicators of inflation.

Most importantly, the CPI needs to know how much the average U.S. household spends on both of those two food items in order to measure the impact different inflation rates have on total inflation. If everybody spent the same number of dollars on ice cream as they do on bacon, then you could just use a simple average of the two inflation rates to get a total. Here is where BLS’s Consumer Expenditure Survey comes in. It measures, in great detail, all the different goods and services consumers purchase in a year, and passes these numbers to the CPI to form a “market basket” — that is, a list of everything people buy and what percentage of their total spending goes to each item.

The latest spending numbers showed that the average dollar amount per year that all U.S. households spent on ice cream was $54.04, while the average amount on bacon was $39.07. That means that ice cream has a greater importance than bacon when tracking inflation, not only in the Henderson household, but in the CPI. In other words, the more people spend on an item, the more inflationary changes to its cost will affect the total inflation rate.

Policymakers, researchers, journalists, government bodies, and others use the CPI to make important decisions that directly affect American citizens. U.S. Census Bureau analysts use CPI data to adjust the official poverty thresholds for inflation, and it’s one of several factors the Federal Reserve Board considers when deciding whether to raise or lower interest rates. Employers may use it to determine whether to give cost-of-living increases, and policymakers use the CPI when considering changes to allotments for things like Social Security, military benefits, or school lunch programs.

I hope this deep dive into ice cream spending helps you understand why the Consumer Expenditure Survey is so detailed.

Prestigious Award for BLS and U.S. Census Bureau Researchers

There are so many things I love about being Commissioner of Labor Statistics. The part of the job I enjoy the most is working every day with so many talented, dedicated, hard-working people. I am especially pleased when BLS staff members receive recognition for their good work. We recently celebrated one of those occasions.

Thesia Garner and Kathleen Short holding their Roger Herriot Award certificates.

Thesia Garner and Kathleen Short

Thesia Garner of the Office of Prices and Living Conditions and Kathleen Short of the U.S. Census Bureau received the 2016 Roger Herriot Award for Innovation in Federal Statistics at the 2016 Joint Statistical Meetings. The award recognizes the important and extensive research Thesia and Kathleen have done together over more than 20 years to develop better measures of poverty in the United States. Their most recent work focused on producing the Supplemental Poverty Measure. This measure provides insight about the effects of public policies and programs on reducing poverty. Herriot Award winners are chosen by a committee of the American Statistical Association and the Washington Statistical Society. Please join me in congratulating Thesia and Kathleen for this recognition and for their research into improving the ways we measure economic hardship.

A History and Culture of Efficiency at BLS

We’re always looking for ways to improve our programs and surveys at BLS to provide what I call “gold standard” data. Good data help the American public make better decisions.

BLS has a strong history and culture of looking for ways to provide our data in the most timely, accurate, relevant, and cost-effective manner. I’m incredibly proud of what BLS has achieved through innovation and resourcefulness. Our focus on improving our programs and methods means we can produce better data and provide better service for you.

I am excited the President’s 2016 budget request contains several items to help us meet the needs of our data users. One innovative proposal is to improve the timeliness and detail of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The new funding would allow us to release each month’s data much sooner, when we publish The Employment Situation. Data users then would be able to analyze net changes in jobs each month alongside information about job openings, hires, and separations for the same month. Having more information more quickly can give policymakers, employers, and workers an earlier warning about downturns or signal an improving economy.

The President’s 2016 budget also proposes funding to measure poverty more accurately. Other agencies use these measures to improve conditions for the poor. BLS would improve the Consumer Expenditure Survey to get more information about school breakfasts and lunches and programs that help pay for home heating and other household expenses. The improved data will help the U.S. Census Bureau develop alternative poverty measures.

At BLS, we work hard every day to improve efficiency. I want to highlight a few notable efficiencies we have made over the past few years.

  • In 2012 we began closing 36 Consumer Price Index data collection offices, allowing those data collectors to work from their homes using smart phones and tablets.
  • This year, we began applying a design change to the Consumer Expenditure Survey that will reduce the number of respondent interviews from five to four; we will use the savings from that change to support a small-scale redesign of the survey.
  • We have reduced mailing costs by redesigning survey mailings and increasing the use of our Internet Data Collection Facility.

Of course, saving money by improving efficiency cannot fund all the work we do, but it can make a big difference.

In sum, we are constantly working to improve the way we do business. We strive to make our work as efficient, relevant, timely, and cost-effective as possible, to deliver “gold standard” data to our customers.