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Archive for Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recession reshaping U.S., data show

September 22, 2009

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

A broad array of U.S. census data, released Monday, also shows a dip in the foreign-born population last year, to under 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 1 in 20 uninsured residents — the lowest in the nation. Texas had the highest share, at 1 in 4, largely because of illegal 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 earlier this year found 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 that 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 1 in 8 workers, or 17.5 million, were out the door by 6 a.m.

Marital bliss also suffered. Nearly 1 in 3 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.

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