PRB Discuss Online: U.S. Economic and Social Trends

(March 2010) During the current U.S. recession, homeownership and mobility rates have dropped; poverty has increased; and commuting patterns have shifted toward greener, more cost-effective options. But job losses and housing market declines have hurt some Americans more than others, and racial and ethnic disparities in education and income become more important as blacks and Hispanics make up a larger proportion of the workforce. Demographic differences are also a factor: For example, Hispanics are younger and have larger families than other major racial/ethnic groups. Families with children have fared well on some indicators, but face special challenges if parents are unemployed or without health insurance. Which population groups are most vulnerable to economic changes? How has the story changed over time or by geographic region?


During a PRB Discuss Online, Linda Jacobsen, vice president of Domestic Programs, and Mark Mather, associate vice president of Domestic Programs at PRB, answered participants’ questions about recent social and economic trends in the United States and the future implications for U.S. population groups. Jacobsen and Mather are co-authors of the new Population Bulletin, “U.S. Social and Economic Trends Since 2000.”

March 18, 2010 12 PM EST


Transcript of Questions and Answers


Juanita Tamayo Lott: Dear Linda and Mark, Thank you for this timely contextual study—really sobering findings on family and household characteristics by race and ethnicity. Were you able to examine socio-economic data specific to the Millennial and Digital Generations which are composed of not only a greater proportion of children of color but also more likely to be more multi ethnic and multiracial? Were you able to review data on worker/dependent ratios with a primarily White aging/consumer White population dependent on an increasingly non White worker/producer population? Thanks, Juanita
Mark Mather: You raise an important issue and one that rarely gets much attention. There is a growing racial/ethnic gap between those ages 65 and older and young adults who are increasingly Latino, Asian, or multiracial. This “new generation gap” came about because of the rise in immigration levels soon after the end of the baby boom, in combination with relatively high fertility among Latino families. It’s unclear whether the mostly white elderly population in the U.S. will support programs and policies to support a racially/culturally diverse youth population (and vice versa). But it’s crucial that minority youth have the supports they need to become productive adults because they are going to make up most of the growth in the U.S. labor force in the coming decades.

Jann Anguish: According to your statistics for years 2007-2009, the number of employed dropped in 29 states and increased in only one, Texas, due to the strong energy and high tech industries. Are the energy and high tech industries projected to remain strong in the future?
Mark Mather: Texas has weathered the recession better than many other states but it’s hard to predict where employment and population growth will take off in the future. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects rapid growth in IT during the next decade but we are increasingly outsourcing IT jobs to other countries. See PRB’s recent article on this topic:

Shelley Irving: You mention that “poverty rates among children are expected to rise further in the next few years.” What factors will lead to this increase in childhood poverty? Do you think that the 1996 welfare reform legislation has had any effect on the poverty experience of children Also, do you anticipate any long-term effects from this increase in childhood poverty?
Mark Mather: The official poverty rate is derived from family income so child poverty is expected to increase in response to recent job losses. Researchers at the Brookings Institution projected that child poverty rates could peak at 24 percent by 2011, based on their analysis of recent and projected trends in unemployment. During the 1990s, child poverty rates dropped, especially among single-parent families who were entering the workforce in greater numbers. So welfare reform has been linked to a decline in child poverty rates (see research by Lichter and Crowley). However, the official poverty rate has also been widely criticized because it doesn’t account for many of the costs incurred by working families with children, including child care and health expenses.

Jason Bedford: How has the changing trend of an increased Latino population affected their political voice in government? Does their representation in government equal the percentage of the population that they represent in the US?
Mark Mather: Political participation among Latinos is limited and lags far behind the growth of the Latino population. There are several reasons for this, including low citizenship rates, low voter registration rates, relatively low levels of education, as well as the young age structure of the Latino population (older Americans are more likely to vote). Latino political power is expected to increase over time but they have a long way to go to close the gap with whites. Still, anyone who is seeking political office needs to pay more attention to Latino voters than they did a generation ago. Latinos currently account for about half of all children under age 18 in California, and most of these children are U.S.-born citizens, so Latinos are going to be an increasingly powerful political force on the West Coast and eventually in other states as well.

Robert Prentiss: Your study indicated foreclosures are up and mortgages are “under water”. Do you have any data to indicate whether and how this will affect the need to house more homeless families?
Linda Jacobsen: There is some evidence that the economic downturn is causing an increase in family homelessness. In its 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that homelessness among persons in families increased by 9 percent between October 2007 and September 2008. This report also finds an increase in the number reporting that they were living with family or friends the night before entering a homeless residential facility, and an increase in the share who had lived in the place they spent the night before becoming homeless for a year or more. Although the number of homeless persons is higher in urban areas, there was an increase in homelessness in suburban and rural areas between 2007 and 2008. The HUD report provides estimates of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons, as well as information about their demographic characteristics and is available online at

Ashley Frost: Your research indicates that nonmarital childbearing has increased in the last 10 years; could you elaborate on what has caused this trend?
Linda Jacobsen: The increase in nonmarital fertility is largely due to delays in marriage and increases in cohabitation. Young adults today are waiting longer than ever to marry for the first time. Among 25- to 29-year-olds in 2008, nearly half of women and three-fifths of men had never been married. But, even though young adults are waiting to marry, they are not waiting to form unions. Instead they are cohabiting. In fact, recent estimates suggest that the majority of young adults today cohabit at some point and that more than half of recent marriages were preceded by cohabitation. In addition, cohabiting households today are also more likely to contain children. There continues to be a large racial and ethnic gap in nonmarital fertility. Seventy percent of black births, and 50 percent of Hispanic births were nonmarital, compared to only 27 percent of non-Hispanic white births. With continued growth in minority populations, the share of nonmarital births seems likely to increase in the future.

Sanjay Mishra: Specially the people who are living out of USA mainly in less developed countries are more or less affected with American state economic policy and other related decisions, fro example the slump and economic depression affected badly to many of the such countries, reason being there is a huge gap between less developed and developed, my concern is that disease, dpression, inflation,global warming and pollution reaches more rapidly than the socio- economic developmement measures why so? Examples can be seen from India, China and majority of the African countries which affected immidiately due to global recession spontaneously.
Mark Mather: This isn’t my area of expertise but in developing countries there is a large number of people living in extremely precarious situations, so when economic conditions deteriorate there are major consequences for those without any acquired wealth or government safety nets. For information about some of the demographic, health, and environmental challenges facing populations in developing countries, see our recent Population Bulletin on World Population Highlights:

Sam Roberts: Dear Linda and Mark: On the basis of trends in the last 10 years, what can we extrapolate and forecast what to expect in the next 10? Also, given the growth of the black middle class, do we see any greater movement toward black children being raised in two-parent households?
Mark Mather: Sam, Here are some quick thoughts about what we can expect to see during the next decade:

•The U.S. population will grow older as baby boomers start to reach age 65 (starting in 2011). Most of these aging boomers are white but we’ll see more diversity in the generations that follow them.

•We will see increasing racial/ethnic diversity but perhaps a slowdown in Latino population growth compared with trends in the 1990s and early 2000s, given the recent decline in international immigration.

•We expect to see relatively low state-to-state and local mobility rates as the population ages (older Americans are less likely to move)

•The U.S. has a high fertility rate compared to most other developed countries, but we could see a drop in fertility as more women enter college and the workforce and further delay marriage and childbearing.

•Unless conditions improve rapidly for minority youth, we expect to see a large number of young adults in the next decade who lack the skills needed to compete for good jobs.

Regarding your other question: The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that the share of African American children living in single-parent families has held steady at around 65 percent since 2000. This is more than 40 percentage points higher than the share for non-Hispanic white children and puts black youth at a severe disadvantage in terms of family income, education, and other dimensions of child welfare. The recession has made conditions worse, especially for black men, who have an unemployment rate approaching 20 percent according to the latest BLS figures. Lower levels of education and family income are associated with higher rates of nonmarital births so the prospects for blacks do not look very good in the short term. However, there is also a growing share of black women who are going to college and getting good jobs, so over the long term, we could see more black women delaying childbearing and having fewer births outside of marriage. I’ll also note that there is an increasing share of children being raised by cohabiting parents. So if we focus only on “single-parent” families we do not get a complete picture of children’s living arrangements. Children with cohabiting parents, like kids in single-parent families, have worse outcomes compared with children in married-couple families so this is another trend we need to monitor.

Mary Kent: We hear a lot about the wealth gap among US racial and ethnic groups, which is much larger than the difference in current income. Has the wealth gap narrowed since 2000? What is the likely effect of the recession on this gap?
Linda Jacobsen: The most recent data from the Federal Reserve Board show a slight increase (6%) in average net worth between 2001 and 2004, and a larger increase (13%) between 2004 and 2007 – before the full impact of the recent recession. Even though average net worth increased for nonwhite and Hispanic families, their average net worth was still only about one-third the average of non-Hispanic white families in 2007. As our report notes, homeownership has traditionally been the major source of wealth accumulation in the U.S. But, rates of homeownership remain much lower among minorities, and home values for African Americans are much lower than those for non-Hispanic whites, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. Since blacks and Latinos have been disproportionately impacted in terms of both unemployment and foreclosure by the recession, it seems likely that the wealth gap between minorities and whites will increase.

Michael Thompson: The national trends highlighted in the report are really interesting, but could they obscure trends at regional scales that would give valuable perspective? Two possible examples are the high median home values and educational levels associated with Asian Americans. To what extent do these statistics reflect the distribution of Asian American populations on the two coasts and (in particular) the relatively inexpensive opportunities for higher education in California. Are there other national trends that are heavily skewed by populations that live near the two coasts?
Mark Mather: As you mention, there are important variations in regional and residential concentrations of racial/ethnic populations. Latinos were geographically disadvantaged during the recession because of their high concentrations in states with the steepest declines in home values, including California, Florida, and Nevada. Asians tend to live in higher-priced suburban areas near the East and West Coasts and also experienced a significant loss of wealth associated with the drop in home prices. In the Midwest, the loss of manufacturing jobs, especially in Michigan, has had a major impact on the mostly white and black populations in the region. We could not go into too much detail about regional differences in this report, but it’s clear that the recession has affected different regions and population subgroups in different ways.

Eric Zuehlke: Many economists speculate that even when the recession ends, the unemployment rate will stay the same for years. What kind of social consequences could this have and how does the changing demographic makeup of the U.S. affect these changes?
Linda Jacobsen: We do indeed seem to be in the midst of a “jobless recovery”. A recent report from the Brookings Institution finds that we have recovered a smaller percentage of jobs in the two years since the current recession began than were recovered in the two years following the last three recessions. The current job market has been particulary tough for young adults and recent college graduates. Many have moved back in with their parents. If these employment trends continue, then young adults may have to wait even longer to establish their own households and to marry and start families. Of course, minorities make up a larger share of the child and youth populations, and blacks and Latinos have experienced the biggest increases in unemployment during the current recession. Unfortunately, these two groups continue to have much lower levels of college enrollment and completion than Whites and Asian Americans. If unemployment rates remain at higher levels in the future, and the education gap for blacks and Latinos is not reduced, then they may continue to experience much higher levels of unemployment, negatively impacting their well-being and that of their families.

mohamad saljoughi: Hello i am student in demography, from university of iran, what is the most emportant issue of demographic of middle east?
Mark Mather: Hi Mohamad, I am going to direct you to a recent PRB report on population issues in the Middle East in Africa. The report addresses many challenges and opportunities in the region but the “youth bulge”—and the challenges it creates for the future workforce–is certainly one of the key issues


For further information see:

Linda Jacobsen and Mark Mather, “U.S. Economic and Social Trends Since 2000,” Population Bulletin 65, no. 1 (2010).

PRB has produced a web package of materials to accompany this Population Bulletin, including:

• “10 Years, 10 Findings.”

• Audio commentary from the authors on data on unemployment, housing values, educational attainment, and marriage patterns by race/ethnicity.

• “Hard Times for Latino Men.