The effects of a recession


POSTED: Tuesday, September 22, 2009

WASHINGTON » The recession is profoundly disrupting American life: More people are delaying marriage and home-buying, turning to car pools yet getting stuck in ever-worse traffic, staying put rather than moving to new cities.

A broad array of U.S. census data released yesterday also shows a dip in the foreign-born population last year, to less than 38 million after it reached an all-time high in 2007. This was due to declines in low-skilled workers from Mexico searching for jobs in Arizona, Florida and California.

Health coverage swung widely by region, based partly on levels of unemployment. Massachusetts, with its universal-coverage law, had fewer than one in 20 uninsured residents—the lowest in the nation. Texas had the highest share, at one in four, largely because of illegal Hispanic immigrants excluded from government-sponsored and employer-provided plans.

Demographers said the latest figures were striking confirmation of the social impact of the economic decline as it hit home in 2008. Findings come from the annual American Community Survey, a sweeping look at life built on information from 3 million households.

Preliminary data found earlier this year that many Americans were not moving, staying put in big cities rather than migrating to the Sunbelt because of frozen lines of credit. Mobility is at a 60-year low, upending population trends ahead of the 2010 census, which will be used to apportion House seats.

“;The recession has affected everybody in one way or another as families use lots of different strategies to cope with a new economic reality,”; said Mark Mather, associate vice president of the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau. “;Job loss—or the potential for job loss—also leads to feelings of economic insecurity and can create social tension.”;

“;It's just the tip of the iceberg,”; he said, noting that unemployment is still rising.

The percentage of people who drove alone to work dropped last year to 75.5 percent, the lowest in a decade, as commuters grew weary of paying close to $4 a gallon for gasoline and opted to carpool or take public transportation.

Twenty-two states had declines in solo drivers compared with the year before, with the rest statistically unchanged. The decreases were particularly evident in states with higher traffic congestion, such as Maryland, Texas and Washington.

Average commute times edged up to 25.5 minutes, erasing years of decreases to stand at the level of 2000, as people had to leave home earlier in the morning to pick up friends for their ride to work or to catch a bus or subway train.

Palmdale, Calif., a suburb in the high desert north of Los Angeles, posted the longest commute at 41.5 minutes. It barely edged out New York City, with its congestion and sprawling subway system, at 39.4 minutes. Shortest commute time: Bloomington, Ill., at 14.1 minutes.

Nationwide, more than one in eight workers, or 17.5 million, were out the door by 6 a.m.

Marital bliss also suffered. Nearly one in three Americans 15 and over, or 31.2 percent, reported they had never been married, the highest level in a decade. The share had previously hovered for years around 27 percent, before beginning to climb during the housing downturn in 2006.

The never-married included three-quarters of men in their 20s and two-thirds of women in that age range. Sociologists say younger people are taking longer to reach economic independence and consider marriage, because they are struggling to find work or focusing on an advanced education.

The dip in foreign-born residents comes as the government considers immigration changes, including stepped-up border enforcement and a path toward U.S. citizenship. At nearly 38 million, immigrants made up 12.5 percent of the population in 2008; an estimated 11.9 million are here illegally.


» The homeownership rate fell to 66.6 percent last year, the lowest in six years, after hitting a peak of 67.3 percent in 2006. Residents in crowded housing jumped to 1.1 percent, the highest since 2004, a sign people were “;doubling up”; with relatives or friends to save money.

» The share of people who carpooled to work rose to 10.7 percent, up from 10.4 percent in the previous year. Commuters who took public transportation increased to 5 percent, the highest in six years, with Washington, D.C., at the top.

» Women's average pay still lagged men's, but the gap has been narrowing. Women with full-time jobs made 77.9 percent of men's pay, up from 77.5 percent in 2007 and about 64 percent in 2000.

» More people have high school diplomas. Only two states, Texas and Mississippi, had at least one in five adults without high school diplomas. This is down from 17 states in 2000 and 37 in 1990.

» More older people are working. About 15.5 percent of Americans 65 and over, or 6.1 million, were in the labor force. That's up from 15 percent in 2007.

Some facts on U.S. life in 2008:
» Two-income families: About 55 percent of married couples had both spouses in the labor force. North Dakota ranked first at 65 percent. Ranked last was West Virginia, at 45 percent.
» Military veterans: About 10 percent of adult residents are veterans. Alaska was the highest at 14 percent. New York and Washington, D.C., were last with fewer than 7 percent.
» Multigenerational households: There were 3.8 million households with at least three generations living together. The most were found in Hawaii at 7 percent; the least, in North Dakota at 1.1 percent.
» Welfare recipients: Alaska had the most who received cash public assistance income at 6 percent. Alabama, Georgia and Wyoming had the fewest, at roughly 1.3 percent each.
Source: Census Bureau