What, exactly, do Americans do all day?

Hanging a clock-editedLast week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released results from the 2013 American Time Use Survey. This survey, administered every year for the last decade, asks respondents–selected from people who have recently completed the Current Population Survey–to keep a diary of how they spent their time for a full 24 hour period. These data allow us to understand something about the “average” day not only for the population overall, but also for various subgroups, such as the unemployed or elderly. As you read, consider: How helpful is information about the “average” respondent?

While there is a fair amount of data to mine, let’s start at the highest level, by looking at time use on an “average” weekday across all respondents:ATUS_piechartPerhaps most notable is the sheer amount of sleep people seem to be getting: apparently, a healthy 8.5 hours a night. Not bad!

…however. As detailed over at Wonkblog, it turns out that “sleeping” is what happens between getting into bed and getting out of bed, and also takes into account naps. This way of calculating sleep doesn’t differentiate between deep slumber and “dozing off to Netflix” (I know I’m not the only one).  Similarly, things like “reading in bed” could feasibly occur during these otherwise allocated sleep hours.

And though 99.9 percent of all respondents reported that they slept at some point in the previous 24 hours, the time reported for other activities is averaged across everyone in the survey, whether they did or did not report them in their time-use “diary”. This is where we need to pay attention to what we mean by “average”. Continue reading

Children living with married parents can be poor, too

Drawing on our recent report, New Insights on Childhood Poverty, Annie and I published an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch over the weekend. In it we discussed the consequences of limiting the conversation about childhood poverty to children with single parents:

…focusing the conversation about childhood poverty exclusively on children of single parents renders invisible the largest group of children in economic insecurity: those whose parents have already taken a trip down the aisle. It turns out that the face of economic insecurity may, in contrast to the broader narrative, be a child supported by married parents.

As detailed in our report, one in three Virginia children live in economic insecurity. Almost half, the largest group, live with married parents.

Read the full op-ed here.

Will promoting marriage solve childhood poverty in Virginia?

In 2011, one in three Virginia children lived in economic insecurity–either in poverty or in near poverty–as defined by Virginia Poverty Measure (VPM) poverty thresholds.  This statistic, among others, is discussed in depth in the Cooper Center’s newest paper, New Insights on Childhood Poverty: A Deeper Look into the Results from the Virginia Poverty Measure.

Slightly more than 13 percent of Virginia kids lived in poverty, according to the VPM. Another 18.5 percent lived beyond poverty, but below 150% of the VPM poverty thresholds. To put this into perspective, a two-adult, two-child family in Virginia with annual resources between $29,000 and $43,000 lives in near-poverty, while the same family living with resource totals below $29,000 would be considered in poverty under the VPM.*

Given the attention that marriage often receives from both pundits and policymakers as a a strategy to address childhood poverty, the paper released today focuses on the marital status of parents, comparing poverty and near-poverty across three groups: married-parent families, cohabiting-parent families, and single-parent families.  Our findings reinforce some common understandings of childhood poverty while also illuminating some of its less-frequently-discussed realities.  Continue reading

Family Matters

Hispanic_Family

About a year ago, the Demographics Research Group released a report entitled The Virginia Poverty Measure: An Alternative Poverty Measure for the Commonwealth.  In the coming weeks, we’ll be revisiting this topic with another report, this time focusing on Virginia children living in economic insecurity.

One of the most fundamental things that distinguishes the Virginia Poverty Measure (VPM) from the Official Poverty Measure is who “counts” as part of a family unit.  While applying a different definition of the family unit is only one aspect of improving the measure of economic (in)security, it is an important change because it lays the groundwork for an accurate account of income and expenses.

The official poverty rate is calculated by the Census Bureau using income limits applied to families depending on number and age of family members.  Larger families have higher income limits–“poverty thresholds”–than do smaller families.  Families headed by adults over the age of 65 years have lower income limits than families headed by younger adults.  According to the Census Bureau, a family is one or more people living together and related by birth, adoption, or marriage.

To understand why broadening the definition of family unit sets up a more accurate measure of economic (in)security, consider the following situations that arise under the Official Poverty Measure: Continue reading

The long distance runner: Lonely, no more?

Recently, Hamilton shared a great post about American ancestry. The first sentence of his post– “This is one of my favorite demographic maps.”— made me wonder: Have I ever said those words? Do I have a favorite demographic map?

There are plenty of maps that I appreciate for what they reveal, such as one from this past summer painting a stark picture of US income mobility. Some maps are more for fun: though I wish I had a better handle on the source, I definitely got a kick out of the map revealing the concentration of red-heads in Europe that made the rounds last year. And, of course, the Racial Dot Map was pretty great for both substance and style (though I personally think that the Congressional Dot Map was even more interesting).

This week, though, I happened across a great new map that I appreciate not only for its visual appeal and powerful presentation of data, but also because it provides great information on a topic I care a lot about: running.

US

Continue reading

Tax Day Round-Up

 

Money_Green WalletAs we all know, today marks one of the clearest-cut deadlines of the year: Our Federal income taxes are due. (And, if you didn’t know, you’ve got until midnight.) Yes, the IRS does grant extensions, making it more generous than many teachers I know. But, for most of us, today is it.

According to Virginia Senator Mark Warner, “Our taxpayers deserve to know how their federal funds are spent–dollar for dollar–and it is the government’s obligation to share that information in a clear, accessible way.” Acting on this conviction, Senator Warner has sponsored the Senate’s Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act along with Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman. According to the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, this bi-partisan bill “[allows] taxpayers to trace every dollar spent by federal agencies and help lawmakers more easily identify fraud, waste and abuse to create a more efficient government.”

A previous version of this bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support in November, and an amended version was unanimously passed by the Senate on April 10. It is projected that this updated bill will soon pass through the House, and come to the president later this spring for his approval or veto.

Under the DATA Act, taxpayers will be able to access checkbook-level data on Federal payments. Big Data–a phrase likely to conjure concerns over privacy, and often misunderstood–can help as we attempt to hold our government to higher standards of accountability.

On a day like Tax Day, though, there are plenty of other fun ways to use data, and data visualizations, to understand more about one of the two certainties in life. Here are some online resources on taxes in the US: Continue reading

The Farm Bill’s odd couple: SNAP and agriculture

In January, I spent some time discussing SNAP in Virginia here and here; at the time, there was a lot of hypothesizing about what kinds of changes were in store for the program.

In early February, the Farm Bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. This bill reauthorized Federal funding to the SNAP program, and included an estimated funding reduction of about $8 billion that is projected to influence hundreds of thousands of SNAP recipients.  Virginia remained almost entirely unaffected by changes to the program, as did many other states.  For details about the changes the Agriculture Act of 2014 made to SNAP, check out this article, or this synopsis of the Farm Bill conference agreement.

Maybe you’re not all that interested in the outcome, or maybe you’re the type to review the summaries, ponder the formal text of the final act, or even pore over helpful timelines to figure it out.  Either way, you might still be wondering: why are food stamps included in an agriculture bill, in the first place? Continue reading

SNAP in Virginia

An average of 922,150 Virginians– 11.6% of all Commonwealth residents– participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) each month between January and December 2012.

This social safety net program has received particular attention in recent months.  Not only has SNAP funding recently been reduced due to the expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), but the soon-to-be-passed Farm Bill will likely implement additional cuts.  What does SNAP look like in Virginia, and in what ways might recent and impending changes affect the Commonwealth? Continue reading