Posts Tagged ‘households’


For those who remain skeptical, Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that only Black lives matter. The movement represents the idea that, if Black lives don’t matter—because of police violence, COVID infections and deaths, unemployment, and much else—then all lives are diminished by the existing set of economic and social institutions.

Much the same holds for food insufficiency or hunger. If right now, in the midst of the pandemic, Black households are suffering more from a lack of food than Whites, then something is systemically wrong—American society is not treating all lives in a fair and humane manner.

It’s as if someone had a knee to their throats, not allowing them to eat.

But, of course, that’s not how racial capitalism works. There’s plenty of food to be had and no one is standing at the door of the grocery store or supermarket preventing them from entering. But people only get to eat a sufficient amount if they have the money to purchase the food. And if they lose their jobs or have their hours shortened or are faced with a pay cut, then their incomes aren’t enough to pay for the commodities they need, including food. They have to go without. So, if working-class Blacks (and Hispanics and others) are the last ones hired and the first hired, or they’re attempting to make do with whatever low-paying jobs are available, then they and their families go hungry.

So, what do the data show?

The chart at the top of the post shows how widespread and unequal hunger is in the United States. According to the information from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Surveys, comparing the situation from before the novel coronavirus pandemic (prior to 13 March 2020) and now (between 18 and 23 June 2020), overall food insufficiency has grown from an already-high 7.6 percent to 9.5 percent.* But the rates are much worse for Black Americans—both before the pandemic, when it was 16.5 percent, and more recently, when it has risen to 18.5 percent—as well as Hispanics—12.8 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively.


The situation is even more dire when we consider households with children, as indicated in the chart above. Overall, food insufficiency in such households has risen during the pandemic from 10.2 percent to 12.3 percent. But the rate for Blacks, which suffered from hunger at more than 3 times the rate of Whites before the pandemic, is now 20.5 percent. The rate for Hispanic households, which was already high, remains around 15 percent.**

Clearly, Black lives don’t matter in the United States when it comes to food sufficiency. They didn’t matter before the COVID crisis, and they matter even less now.


Transforming American society in the name of “liberty, justice, and freedom” means many things in this moment—including tackling the problem of hunger.


*In order to work with the questions in the Census Bureau survey, I define food insufficiency or hunger as the sum of responses of “sometimes not enough to eat” and “often not enough to eat.”

**If I include the third response, “enough food, but not always the types wanted”—and therefore add to the other answers the Census Bureau’s equivalent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of low food security (“reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake”)—the rates soar. White households with children are experiencing a rate of food insecurity (as against hunger or food insufficiency, in the way I’ve used it in the text) of 40.5 percent. For Black households it’s 58 percent, and, in the case of Hispanic households, 58.8 percent.


Special mention

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Special mention

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According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, in 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults aged 18 to 34 were more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household or in any other living arrangement.

Dating back to 1880, the most common living arrangement among young adults has been living with a romantic partner, whether a spouse or a significant other. This type of arrangement peaked around 1960, when 62% of the nation’s 18- to 34-year-olds were living with a spouse or partner in their own household, and only one-in-five were living with their parents.

By 2014, 31.6% of young adults were living with a spouse or partner in their own household, below the share living in the home of their parent(s) (32.1%). Some 14% of young adults were heading up a household in which they lived alone, were a single parent or lived with one or more roommates. The remaining 22% lived in the home of another family member (such as a grandparent, in-law or sibling), a non-relative, or in group quarters (college dormitories fall into this category).

So, what’s going on?

On one hand, a single kind of household arrangement (married or cohabitating in one’s own household), which peaked in 1960, has given way to a variety of arrangements (including living with parents, single parenting, living with family members other than parents, and living on one’s own or with a non-related group). Clearly, for young adults, the Leave-It-to-Beaver household has been displaced by many different alternatives.

Except, of course, many young adults are staying or moving back in with their parents, in traditional households that are presumably being transformed by their presence. And, as the report makes clear, “trends in both employment status and wages have likely contributed to the growing share of young adults who are living in the home of their parent(s), and this is especially true of young men.”

young wages

Young men’s wages peaked around 1970 and they’ve been declining ever since—first gradually and then, after 2000, precipitously. And, as their earnings declined, the share of young men living in the home of their parent(s) has risen.*

More recently, the absence of an effective social safety net in the midst of the Second Great Depression has meant that many young workers have been forced to avail themselves of the private safety net of their parents’ households.**

That, of course, is only a short-term solution. Longer term, it means that, as a society, we have to both open up the discourse of the family and create the conditions whereby young adults can imagine and create new, more vibrant forms of householding for themselves.

And not just move back in with their parents.


*According to the report, “Economic factors seem to explain less of why young adult women are increasingly likely to live at home. Generally, young women have had growing success in the paid labor market since 1960 and hence might increasingly be expected to be able to afford to live independently of their parents. For women, delayed marriage—which is related, in part, to labor market outcomes for men—may explain more of the increase in their living in the family home.”

**As for the folks at FiveThirtyEight, they can’t seem to decide if it’s the economy or not that explains young adults moving back in with their parents. First, it’s not the economy (but, instead, “long-run shifts in demographics and behavior”); then, it is the economy (“The strong job market of the early 2000s overcame the demographic forces, allowing young singles to afford their own apartments and essentially suppressing the living-with-mom trend until the Great Recession hit.”). So, for the folks who are so confident with their “value-free” numbers (in, e.g., writing story after story bashing Bernie Sanders), which is it?


This semester, we’re once again teaching A Tale of Two Depressions. And, as in previous offerings of the course, we often touch on and return to the theme of the American Dream.

The students in the course get the clear sense that the definition of the American Dream changed during the 1920s (during the transition from small-town rural life to factories in the big cities) and that the First Great Depression turned that dream into a nightmare for most Americans. A new American Dream was, of course, created during the New Deals and the postwar period but began to unravel from the mid-1970s onward (as wages stagnated and the distribution of income and wealth became increasingly unequal).

What about now, six years into the Second Great Depression?

Well, a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts [pdf, ht: ja] documents the fragile financial situation of many U.S. households outside the top 1 percent—and thus how far American workers are from even imagining, let alone achieving, the American Dream.

Consider the following facts:

Household incomes are dramatically volatile: in 2011, about the same percentage of Americans (a bit more than 20 percent) had to endure a 25-percent decrease in income over a two-year period as a similar increase in income. (One of the consequences is that a large percentage—a third, according to one study—who suffered a loss in income still not recovered financially when their income was measured 10 years later.)

Household spending has declined and stayed down: since the start of the recession in 2007, American households have tightened their purse strings, reducing spending by almost 9 percent. Further, the typical rebound in expenditures following recessionary periods has not occurred since the end of the latest recession. (In contrast, during the 22 years before the start of the downturn, household expenditures grew 16 percent, with 69 percent of that growth [11 percent] occurring between 1990 and 2006.)

Household spending is extremely unequal: in 2013, the top quintile’s annual spending on housing alone ($30,901) outpaced what the middle quintile spent on housing, food, and transportation combined. (In turn, the middle quintile spent nearly as much on housing as those at the bottom spent in total across these categories.)

Most households are in a precarious financial situation: Almost 55 percent of households are savings-limited, meaning they cannot replace even one month of their income through liquid savings (money in cash, checking accounts, and savings accounts). Just under half of households are income-constrained, meaning they perceive that their household spending is greater than or equal to their household income. And 8 percent are debt-challenged, which means they report debt-payment obligations that are 41 percent or more of their gross monthly income. As it turns out, seventy percent of U.S. households face at least one of these three challenges, and more than a third face two or even all three at the same time.

Clearly, the current recovery has represented a reversal of fortunes, after a short but dramatic dip, for a small minority at the top. But, for the American working-class, there has been no recovery. They find themselves as far—many of them, even farther—from the American Dream as they were before the crash of 2007-08.


*The title is a bit of a private joke. Many years ago, before email existed, I told someone by telephone the title of my upcoming talk at American University on the role of mathematics in economics. I planned to begin my presentation with a discussion of Descartes’ dream. As I walked across campus and saw the posters announcing my talk, I realized the wording of my title had been transformed. So, as we walked into the seminar room, one graduate student turned to me and asked: “Professor, what does Dr. Who have to do with the mathematization of economics?”

Ruggles-17 Ruggles-18

As part of his analysis of changing household structure in the United States, Steven Ruggles [pdf] presents the two charts above summarizing data about the relative income of young men.*

What Ruggles finds is that, when comparing the wages of 25-29 year olds to the wage rates of their fathers 25 years earlier (when the fathers were 25-29), relative income peaked in 1958, when young men made about four times as much as their fathers had a quarter-century before. In the 1960s and 1970s, young men’s relative income collapsed, and since the mid-1980s young men have been making less than their fathers had at the same age.

Ruggles also presents a second measure of relative income: comparing current income to an ideal based on the affluent, for example, the income of young men relative to the income of the top 1 percent. As it turns out, this measure peaked in 1970, when 25-29 year old men were making about 13 percent as much as the average income of the top 1 percent; by 2012, it was down to 2.3 percent.

By both measures, then, the rising relative fortunes of young men in the postwar period—a key premise of the American Dream—was short-lived. It quickly and dramatically dropped (during the 1960s and 1970s) and has stagnated (beginning in the early-1980s) ever since.

As Stephanie Coontz explains,

If we want to revive and achieve the American Dream, we need to change a situation in which the people whose hard work makes this country run cannot earn a living wage, while bankers, speculators and corporate elites – the real “takers” in today’s society – skim off far more than their fair share.


*Ruggles’s argument (echoing that of V. K. Oppenheimer) is that “the spectacular decline in the position of young men is the most obvious driver of the decline of marriage since the 1960s.” Unfortunately, Ruggles focuses on the decline of marriage rather than on changes in the structure of households—as if the decline in marriage rates is itself a negative trend. One alternative is that, as a consequence of the declining fortunes of young men (along with the stagnation in the incomes of young women), men and women are inventing new household structures, new ways of living alone and together, that do not share the premises of traditional (postwar) marriages.

ST-2014-07-17-multigen-households-01 ST-2014-07-17-multigen-households-02

The Pew Research Center reports that a record number of Americans—57 million or or 18.1 percent of the population—lived in multi-generational households in 2012, double the number who lived in such households in 1980.

After three decades of steady but measured growth, the arrangement of having multiple generations together under one roof spiked during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and has kept on growing in the post-recession period, albeit at a slower pace. . .

Historically, the nation’s oldest Americans have been the age group most likely to live in multi-generational households. But in recent years, younger adults have surpassed older adults in this regard. In 2012, 22.7% of adults ages 85 and older lived in a multi-generational household, just shy of the 23.6% of adults ages 25 to 34 in the same situation.

What’s the explanation for the growth in multigenerational households? Pew cites young adults’ decisions to marry at later ages and to stay in school longer as well as the country’s changing racial and ethnic composition (since racial and ethnic minorities generally have been more likely to live in multi-generational family arrangements).

The cause that should worry us is the deteriorating economic situation of young adults:

the declining employment and wages of less-educated young adults may be undercutting their capacity to live independently of their parents. Unemployed adults are much more likely to live in multi-generational households than adults with jobs are. A 2011 Pew Research report found that in 2009, 25% of the unemployed lived in a multi-generational household, compared with 16% of those with jobs.

As Heidi Shierholz [pdf] recently testified, the wages of young graduates have fared extremely poorly during the Second Great Depression.

The real (inflation-adjusted) wages of young high school graduates have dropped 9.8 percent since 2007 (the declines were larger for men, at 11.0 percent, than for women, at 8.1 percent). The wages of young college graduates have also dropped since 2007, by 6.9 percent (for young college graduates, the declines were much larger for women, at 10.1 percent, than for men, at 4.0 percent).

But they were doing poorly even before the most recent crisis.

they saw virtually no growth over the entire period of broad wage stagnation that began during the business cycle of 2000–2007. Since 2000, the wages of young high school graduates have declined 10.8 percent (11.4 percent for men and 10.7 percent for women), and the wages of young college graduates have decreased 7.7 percent (0.5 percent for men and 14.2 percent for women). These drops translate into substantial amounts of money. For full-time, full-year workers, the hourly wage declines since 2000 represent a roughly $2,500 decline in annual earnings for young high school graduates, and a roughly $3,000 decline for young college graduates.

As a result, young adults have been increasingly forced to have the freedom to stay or move back in with their parents, thus increasing the number of Americans who are living in multigenerational households.

map-unemployed parent

The number of households with children under 18 that had at least one out-of-work parent soared by a third from 2005 to 2011, according to a new U.S. Census report on families and living arrangements. States experiencing a larger than average increase included Hawaii (95 percent), California (61 percent), Nevada (148 percent), and Colorado (56 percent) in the West and Florida (93 percent), North Carolina (54 percent), New Jersey (63 percent), and Connecticut (65 percent) in the East.

The other major finding in the report concerns marriage and the economic situation of children. While it is true that 70 percent of the children who lived with two married parents were in households that were at least 200 percent above the poverty level, marriage does not ensure economic security for children. Of the 16 million children who lived below the poverty level in 2012, 31 percent lived with two married parents—a share that is statistically unchanged compared with 2002. What is more, the percentage receiving food stamps more than doubled since 2002, from 4 percent to 11 percent, showing that children with two married parents were also vulnerable to economic distress.

The structure of American households has changed radically during the Second Great Depression. Many more people are now living in shared arrangements.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, there were 22.0 million shared households in the United States in 2010, an 11.4 percent increase from 2007.* This total of shared households accounted for 18.7 percent of all households, up from 17.0 percent in 2007.

Individuals age 25 to 34 made up 45 percent of the increase in additional adults between 2007 and 2010. Parents of the householder accounted for 13 percent of additional adults. While less than 3 percent of additional adults were the grandchildren of a householder, siblings made up about 8 percent, and other relatives accounted for about 12 percent of additional adults. About 18 percent of additional adults were not relatives of the householder.

“Although reasons for household sharing are not discernible from the survey, our analysis suggests that adults and families coped with challenging economic circumstances over the course of the recession by joining households or combining households with other individuals or families,” said Laryssa Mykyta, an analyst in the Census Bureau’s Poverty Statistics Branch and one of the authors of the report.

On one hand, personal poverty was higher for householders in shared households than for householders who were not in shared households (8.2 percentage points higher in 2010, or 21.7 percent). On the other hand, while additional adults aged 25 and older had an official poverty rate of 14.6 percent in 2010, had poverty status been determined by personal income, 40.7 percent of additional adults aged 25 and older would have been poor in 2010. In addition, the official poverty rate for young adults aged 25 to 34 living with parents was 8.4 percent in 2010, but if poverty status was determined by personal income, 45.3 percent would have been in poverty.

It seems, then, people—young and old—have been forced to create shared households in order to lessen the ravages of the economic downturn. And it has worked, since their official poverty status has turned out to be less than the poverty status of their personal incomes.

Clearly, the structure of American households is changing during the course of the Second Great Depression. That change, toward shared households, has been the result of economic necessity. But it will be interesting to see if and how, in the years ahead, this change—not unlike the change in gender roles in the postwar period—leads to a radical rethinking and reshaping of the American household.

*A shared household is defined as a household with at least one “additional” adult. An additional adult is a person 18 or older who is not enrolled in school and is neither the householder, the spouse nor the cohabiting partner of the householder.


According to today’s NYT, there’s been an upsurge in urban intentional communities.

Are their numbers surging? Hard to tell, though people who study more traditional “intentional communities” — that is, any group of individuals living together with shared values, as in a commune or collective — say that they are demonstrably on the rise. Laird Schaub, executive secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, said his nonprofit’s database has swelled from 614 communities in 2005 to more than 1,300 this year.

Clearly, lots of people—not only the young but others as well—are creating many different kinds of nonexploitative or collective household economies. Perhaps the revolution does start at home. . .