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Why This Counts: Maximizing Our Data Using the Consumer Expenditure Survey

Almost all BLS statistical programs are based on information respondents voluntarily give us. We want to squeeze as much information as we can out of the data respondents generously provide. Limiting respondent burden while producing gold-standard data is central to our mission.

Let’s take a look at how one program, the Consumer Expenditure (CE) Survey, squeezes every last drop of information from the data to provide you, our customers, with more relevant information.

What is the Consumer Expenditure Survey?

The CE survey is a nationwide household survey that shows how U.S. consumers spend their money. It collects information from America’s families on their buying habits (expenditures), income, and household characteristics (age, sex, race, education, and so forth). For example, we publish what percentage of consumers bought bacon or ice cream and how much they spent on average.

A little back story: The first nationwide expenditure survey began in 1888. BLS was founded in 1884, so the CE Survey is one of our first surveys! It wasn’t until 1980 that we began publishing CE data each year, however. A 2010 article, The Consumer Expenditure Survey—30 Years as a Continuous Survey, provides more historical information.

How is the CE program doing more with what we have?

We’ll briefly look at four different areas, starting with the most recent improvements:

  • Limited state data
  • Higher-income data
  • Generational data
  • Estimating taxes

Limited State Data – Starting with New Jersey

  • Regarding geographical information, the CE survey is designed to produce national statistics. Enough sample data are available to produce estimates for census regions and for a few metropolitan areas.
  • Up to now, however, we did not produce state data. The CE program recently published state weights for New Jersey, which will allow for valid survey estimates at the state level for the first time.
  • State-level weights are available for states with a sample size that is large enough and meet other sampling conditions.
  • Right now, the state-level weighting is experimental. We provide state-level weights to data users to gauge interest and usefulness.

 Higher-Income Table

  • We evaluated the income ranges of the published tables and found that over time more and more households were earning more, and the top income range had not increased to keep pace. To provide greater detail, we divided the existing top income range of “$150,000 and over” into two new ranges: “$150,000 to $199,999” and “$200,000 and over.” We integrated these changes into the 2014 annual “Income before taxes” research table, allowing more robust analysis for our data users.
  • In addition, we added four new experimental cross-tabulated tables on income without the need for additional information from our respondents.

Generational Table

Grouping respondent information by age cohort can be helpful, since a person’s age can help to predict differences in buying attitudes and behaviors. The CE program has collected age data for years, but never grouped the data into generational cohorts before. A Pew Research Center report defines five generations for people born between these dates:

  • Millennial Generation: 1981 or later
  • Generation X: 1965 to 1980
  • Baby Boomers: 1946 to 1964
  • Silent Generation: 1928 to 1945
  • Greatest Generation: 1927 or earlier

The 2016 annual generational table shows our most recent age information for the “reference person” or the person identified as owning or renting the home included in the CE Survey. In 2016 we wrote a short article on Spending Habits by Generation, including a video, which used 2015 data. We’ve updated the chart using 2016 data:

A chart showing consumer spending patterns by generation in 2016.

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Estimating Taxes

CE respondents used to provide federal and state income tax information as part of the survey. These questions were difficult for respondents to answer.

Starting in 2013, the CE program estimated federal and state tax information using the TaxSim model from the National Bureau of Economic Research and removed the tax questions from the survey. As a result, the quality and consistency of the data increased, and we have reduced respondent burden!

If you have any questions or want more information, our staff of experts is always around to help! Please feel free to contact us.

This is just one example of how we at BLS are always looking for ways to maximize our value while being ever mindful of the costs—and one of those important costs is the burden our data collection efforts place on our respondents. Maximizing our data means providing gold-standard data to the public while reducing the burden on our respondents—a true win-win!

Annual consumer spending by generation of reference person, 2016
Item Millennials, 1981 to now Generation X, 1965 to 1980 Baby Boomers, 1946 to 1964 Silent Generation, 1928 to 1945 Greatest Generation, 1927 or earlier
Food at home $3,370 $4,830 $4,224 $3,450 $2,023
Food away from home 2,946 4,040 3,100 2,042 1,095
Housing 16,959 22,669 18,917 14,417 17,858
Apparel and services 1,753 2,577 1,602 920 615
Transportation 8,426 10,545 9,762 5,952 3,142
Healthcare 2,473 4,492 5,492 6,197 5,263
Entertainment 2,311 3,613 3,144 2,114 1,223
All other spending 10,338 15,766 14,963 6,671 4,125

Workplace Fatalities of Older U.S. Workers, Including Baby Boomers, Reach Historic High

We have a guest blogger for this edition of Commissioner’s Corner. Caleb Hopler is an economist in the Office of Safety, Health, and Working Conditions at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Baby Boomer” is a term for Americans born between 1946 and 1964. Most Baby Boomers are now age 55 and older. Workplace safety for these older workers is reflected in counts and rates of fatal occupational injuries.

Workers aged 55 and older had the highest rate of fatal work injuries among all age groups in 2016, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. The rate for workers age 65 and older—9.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers—was notably higher than the rate for all workers (3.6).

Rate of fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers by age, 2016

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Workers age 55 and older accounted for 36 percent of all fatally injured workers in 2016, although workers in this age group comprised just 23 percent of all workers in 2016. The 1,848 deaths among workers age 55 and older in 2016 is the highest ever recorded for this age group since we began reporting national data in 1992.

These fatally injured employees worked in many different occupations: 29 percent in transportation and material moving; 15 percent in construction and extraction; 14 percent in management; 9 percent in installation, maintenance, and repair; 6 percent in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; 5 percent in farming, fishing, and forestry; and the rest in other occupations.

Top occupational groups for workers age 55 and older who suffered fatal work injuries in 2016

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

We also collect the event or exposure, which describes the manner in which the fatal injury occurred. More workers die from transportation incidents than any other event, while fires and explosions have the lowest counts. Of the 773 fatal injuries from transportation incidents in 2016, 135 workers were pedestrians fatally struck by a vehicle or mobile equipment. Roadway collisions with at least one other vehicle resulted in 219 worker deaths. Another 116 workers were killed in a roadway collision with an object other than a vehicle, which could include trees or barriers.

Falls, slips, and trips resulted in 426 fatal injuries to workers age 55 and older in 2016, second only behind transportation incidents. Within this category, 313 workers died from falls to a lower level. These include falls due to collapsing structures or equipment, through a surface or existing opening, or from objects or structures (such as trees, stairs, or roofs).

Fatal occupational injuries to workers age 55 and older by event

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

In 2016, the total number of deaths among workers of all ages was at an 8-year high of 5,190. This was a 7-percent increase from the 4,836 fatal injuries reported in 2015. The 2016 fatal injury rate, 3.6 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, was the highest since 2010.

For more information on fatal occupational injuries in the United States, see the Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities homepage. You can get data from our data page and profiles system. We also have interactive charts, a longer set of tables and charts, and state data.

Rate of fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers by age, 2016
Age Rate
16 to 17 2.1
18 to 19 1.9
20 to 24 2.4
25 to 34 2.5
35 to 44 3.1
45 to 54 3.5
55 to 64 4.7
65 and older 9.6
Top occupational groups for workers age 55 and older who suffered fatal work injuries in 2016
Occupation Number
Transportation and material moving 539
Construction and extraction 277
Management 252
Installation, maintenance, and repair 170
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance 115
Farming, fishing, and forestry 100
Fatal occupational injuries to workers age 55 and older by event
Event or exposure 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Transportation incident 673 658 659 720 772 773
Falls, slips, and trips 285 295 304 395 344 426
Contact with objects and equipment 236 263 233 250 276 288
Violence and other injuries by persons or animals 203 220 190 195 179 227
Exposure to harmful substances or environments 67 50 68 92 70 90
Fire or explosion 36 32 29 34 33 35

How do we spend our time? Unpaid Eldercare

Time is a limited resource. We have only 24 hours in a day to do everything we want to do, along with everything we need to do. Caregivers may be especially pressed for time, spending time not only on their own needs, but on the needs of their children or aging family members or friends.

Today I want to focus on care for the elderly. Sixteen percent of the population, amounting to 41.3 million people, provide unpaid eldercare in the United States. About one-quarter of this population provides unpaid eldercare on a given day, spending an average of 2.8 hours providing eldercare. Think about it. That’s almost 3 hours of the day spent caring for someone else—and that doesn’t even count the hours some eldercare providers spend caring for children!

We know this because the American Time Use Survey includes questions about unpaid eldercare. Eldercare commonly refers to the informal or unpaid care that family members or friends provide aging adults, although it can sometimes include formal or paid care. The number of people age 65 and older is expected to rise dramatically over the next two decades. The number of years elderly people live with chronic conditions due to longer life spans is also expected to rise. Because of this, there is wide interest in understanding how much time Americans devote to unpaid eldercare and how it affects caregivers’ lives.

Hours spent providing eldercare by eldercare activity and sex of eldercare provider, on days they provided care, 2015–16

Editor’s note: A text-only version of the graphic is below.

Let’s take a closer look at eldercare providers using the 2015–16 American Time Use Survey data.

Who are they?

  • The majority (56 percent) of eldercare providers are women.
  • People ages 55 to 64 are the most likely to provide eldercare (24 percent), followed by those ages 45 to 54 (21 percent) and those ages 65 and older (19 percent).
  • Sixty-one percent of eldercare providers are employed.
  • Four million people are parents of children under the age of 18 and also provide care for their own parent. These people sometimes are called members of the “sandwich generation,” because they are between two generations that need care.

For whom are they providing care?

  • Thirty-nine percent of eldercare providers care for someone age 85 or older, while 14 percent provide care for someone ages 65 to 69.
  • Most eldercare providers ages 15 to 34 care for a grandparent. Providers ages 35 to 64 are more likely to care for a parent than are caregivers who are younger or older. Providers age 65 and older are more likely to care for a spouse.

How much time are they spending on eldercare?

  • Eldercare providers who care solely for someone with whom they live spend an average of 2.2 hours per day providing care.
  • On weekdays they provide care, employed caregivers spend an average of 1.8 hours doing so.
  • Among caregivers, women are more likely than men to provide eldercare on a given day. On days they provide eldercare, however, men and women spend about the same amount of time providing care.

What types of eldercare activities are they doing?

  • When we think of eldercare, it might be easy to think of just the physical care. However, eldercare may include nearly any activity. Providers care for their family and friends by helping with grooming, preparing meals, providing rides, and more. They also provide companionship or remain available to help when needed.
  • On days they provide care, 37 percent of eldercare providers prepare food, perform housework, or engage in other household tasks.
  • Eldercare providers spend an average of 1.0 hour in caregiving associated with leisure and sports on days they provide care. This includes socializing and communicating.

This is just a snapshot of the eldercare information available from the American Time Use Survey. Find out more about unpaid eldercare in the United States.

Hours spent providing eldercare by eldercare activity and sex of eldercare provider, on days they provided care, 2015–16
Caregiving activity Total Men Women
Total, activities reported as care done for those age 65 and older 2.84 2.77 2.88

Telephone calls, mail, and e-mail

0.03 0.03 0.02

Working and work-related activities

0.05 (1) 0.07

Other activities, not elsewhere classified

0.05 (1) 0.04

Organizational, civic, and religious activities

0.06 0.05 0.06

Purchasing goods and services

0.08 0.07 0.09

Traveling

0.17 0.17 0.17

Eating and drinking

0.19 0.23 0.17

Caring for and helping household members

0.28 0.24 0.31

Caring for and helping nonhousehold members

0.36 0.29 0.40

Household activities

0.54 0.52 0.56

Leisure and sports

1.03 1.10 0.99
 

(1) Estimate is not shown because it does not meet the American Time Use Survey publication standards.

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.

The Growing Need for Eldercare Workers

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

Tens of millions of babies were born in the United States between 1946 and 1964, and by 2024, nearly 70 million people will be between the ages of 60 and 78. People age 65 and older are projected to make up 23 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population in 2024, up from 18.1 percent in 2014 and 15.5 percent in 2004. As the population ages, they’ll need more workers to care for them in nursing care facilities, retirement communities, or at home.

As a result, occupations related to eldercare are projected to be among the fastest growing in the economy over the next decade. In fact, home health aides, personal care aides, registered nurses, nursing assistants and LPNs/LVNs are projected to add more than 1.6 million new jobs by 2024, or about 1 in 6 new jobs added to the economy. Let’s take a closer look at some of these jobs.

A graphic showing projected growth in eldercare-related healthcare occupations to 2024

Home health aides and personal care aides help older adults, as well as people with disabilities or cognitive impairment, with self-care and everyday tasks like bathing, housekeeping and meal preparation. Home health aides also provide basic health-related services, such as checking vital signs or administering prescribed medications. However, personal care aides cannot provide any medical services. Both occupations work in clients’ homes, long-term care settings, and residential care communities.

Home health aides and personal care aides typically do not need formal education, but most have a high school diploma or equivalent. Both learn their jobs through a brief period of on-the-job training. Home health aides are projected to be the fifth-fastest growing occupation between 2014 and 2024, with more than 348,000 new jobs. Personal care aides are projected to add more than 458,000 new jobs between 2014 and 2024, more than any other occupation.

Nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses work primarily in nursing homes and in hospitals, where they provide basic care. They help patients with activities of daily living, such as bathing, using the toilet and getting dressed. Nursing assistants and LPNs/LVNs listen to their patients, record health concerns and report that information to registered nurses and doctors. Depending on their work setting and the state in which they work, LPNs/LVNs may be allowed to perform additional tasks such as giving medication, starting intravenous drips, or doing routine laboratory tests.

Nursing assistants and LPNs/LVNs typically need a postsecondary nondegree award to enter the occupation. LPNs/LVNs must also have a license. The economy is projected to add 262,000 new nursing assistant jobs by 2024, and LPNs/LVNs are projected to increase by more than 117,000.

Registered nurses, the largest healthcare occupation, provide and coordinate medical care. In 2014 more than 3 in 5 RNs worked in hospitals. They observe patients, help perform diagnostic tests and analyze the results, and set up plans for patients’ care. Some registered nurses oversee licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, and home health aides.

RNs are projected to add 439,300 by 2024, the largest increase after personal care aides. RNs usually take one of three education paths: a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, an associate’s degree in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program.

Want to know more? Explore these occupations and many more in the Occupational Outlook Handbook.