Category Archives: american community survey

Median Household Income: It Takes Five Minutes to See Beyond the Happy Horseshit

American Community Survey data was released for 2016 yesterday, and the news was reportedly good.

The incomes of middle-class Americans rose last year to the highest level ever recorded by the Census Bureau, as poverty declined and the scars of the past decade’s Great Recession seemed to finally fade. Median household income rose to $59,039 in 2016, a 3.2 percent increase from the previous year and the second consecutive year of healthy gains, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

While it is not a surprise that income is rising in an economic upturn, the claim is that this is more than a cyclical increase in income – even though wages are not rising.

The income increase extended to almost every demographic group, Census Bureau officials said. The figure the agency reported Tuesday was the highest on record. The agency reports that in 1999, median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $58,655.

Really? I immediately went to American Factfinder

And downloaded median household income for 2016 and 2006, a year at a similar point in the economic cycle. Adjusting the latter into 2016 dollars for an inflation-adjusted comparison. Downloaded it by age of householder. And found almost exactly what I expected.

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Brooklyn’s Business Boom: Retail and Other Consumer-Driven Sectors

In the previous post, which should be read first, I chronicled the location of and trends in Brooklyn’s office-based businesses. This post is about consumer-driven businesses. How hard is it to know the future? Consider the 1958 report from consulting firm Voorhees Walker Smith & Smith, Zoning New York City, which formed the basis of New York City’s current zoning resolution, passed in 1961.

Page 11. The growth of the supermarket has plainly reduced the role of the neighborhood food store. The efficiency of the large supermarket is such that a given volume of sales can be handled with sharply lower frontage requirements and, even allowing for parking areas, with appreciably lower land requirements…Simultaneously with the growth of the supermarket has appeared the integrated shopping center, ranging in scale from neighborhood units of ten stores to gigantic complexes with department stores and chain store branches. Since the main attribute of the shopping center is one-stop shopping for the automobile customer, the radius of retail trade areas has dramatically increased.

It is now a commonplace that both the downtown shopping district and the local string street have been adversely affected by these innovations in retail trade (resulting in) the excessive amount of retail frontage in the numerous strip developments of the city. A survey of frontages in sixteen shopping districts in widely scattered parts of the city indicated an average retail vacancy rate of nine percent, with an additional six percent of store frontage occupied by non-retail uses.

It is now 59 years later, and as a result of additional innovations in retail trade, the entire economic structure described by Voorhees Walker Smith & Smith is collapsing in suburban and Sunbelt America, as the strip districts of Brooklyn boom.

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Brooklyn’s Business Boom: Office

Brooklyn is one of the epicenters of the new, youth-driven economy. Employment, and the number of employed and self-employed workers, have soared, but the number of poor people living in the borough has also increased, and its average income remains far below the U.S. average.

Brooklyn’s economic base has long consisted of two things, commuting to Manhattan and bringing back money to be spent in the local consumer economy, and something else. That something else was once agriculture, and then manufacturing and the city’s seaport. With the city’s economic collapse in the 1970s, that something else was largely public assistance and government-funded health care and social services, which dominated the borough’s employment. The borough even lost a great deal of its local consumer-driven business activity, due to its falling relative income and the custom of its better off residents choosing to drive elsewhere to go shopping. Today, however, there is something of a turnaround, both in the economic base in the consumer economy. But where is it concentrated, and why? I had my daughter create some maps of data by zip code using GIS program CartoDB to find out. This post is about office-based businesses, and another will follow.

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What the Social Security Administration Knows, and Could Tell Us

Last December I wrote a quick post expressing concern that the U.S. might have reached peak transparency, now that the Democratic Party, as a result of the rising burden of public employee pensions, has turned against the dissemination of accurate, factual information about government and society. Joining the Republicans, who have been against providing access to such information for a couple of decades.

Since then I’ve seen the same concern expressed by many others, now that Donald Trump, hardly Mr. Transparency himself, is President, with reports of government bureaucrats spiriting away statistical information to a secure location before the change of regime, lest it be deleted. Even so, I’m always on the hunt for alternative sources of actual facts, and this January I happened to think of one – the Social Security Administration. And wrote a letter to the Deputy Chief of the Office of Long-Range Actuarial Estimates, the office “responsible for estimates for up to 75 years in the future, based on economic/demographic assumptions developed for the annual Trustees Report.”

I didn’t receive an answer. Given that people need to keep their jobs until they can collect their pensions, and having worked for the government for 20 years myself and knowing what it’s like, I didn’t expect one. It is fair to say that I wrote the letter that follows for the purpose of publishing it on this blog after a reasonable period of waiting for a response had passed.

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American Community Survey Data: Falling Median Work Earnings by Educational Attainment

As I noted in my prior post,

the business cycle, with expansions and recessions, means that comparisons over time for data items such as work earnings and income are only meaningful if one compares economically similar years. The press reports an increase in inflation-adjusted work earnings from 2014 to 2015, but that is merely what should be expected in an economic upturn. A comparison between 2005 and 2015, on the other hand, shows falling median earnings over the business cycle.  As a follow up, with economic trends for U.S. men compared with women, and less educated workers compared with more highly educated workers, an issue in the Presidential election, I downloaded some additional American Community Survey work earnings data to see that the actual situation is – in the U.S., NYC, and nearby areas.

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The American Community Survey: Economic Changes from 2005 to 2015

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) data was released a couple of weeks ago, and I’m surprised how little coverage of its findings there has been in the media. Most of what I have read, moreover, compared 2015 with 2014, or with 2010, and finds that the economy is getting much better for many Americans.

That, however, is not a meaningful comparison if one is looking to the long term, or trying to explain why so many Americans feel so much worse off. One would expect that people would become better off in the recovery from a deep recession, or worse off in the aftermath of the peak of a bubble.   Politicians, seeking to make points for their sides, often base their talking points on data from such non-comparable years, but that is disingenuous. As it happens, there are enough economic similarities between the first year of American Community Survey data, in 2005, and the latest year, 2015, to make a comparison between them meaningful. What follows is a discussion, with 26 charts, of the economic trends I found most interesting from that comparison – for the United States, New York City, and New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut. Let’s take a break from the fantasy and deception of politics and look at some reality.

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