New Census Bureau Portrait Of the American Landscape

Immigrant populations and divorce are on rise; income is falling

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

HERE'S the real state of the union: Divorce is up, incomes are flat, and about 15 percent of Americans have no health insurance. US residents are more likely to have been born in a foreign country, but less likely to move from state to state. People are living in older homes - but they're taking better care of them than they used to.

All these facts are taken from a just-released Census Bureau report on the demographics of the United States in 1996. The study, meant to update important trends in the nation's population, stands in pithy contrast to the generalities about US life that too often pass for Washington political discourse.

Among the most significant findings:

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Divorce. The number of US residents who are currently divorced has more than quadrupled since 1970, from about 4 million to 17 million. Divorced people now make up 39 percent of the country's adult population, up from 28 percent 26 years ago.

Meanwhile, the age at which Americans typically get married for the first time continues to creep upward. The median age of marriage for men was 26.7 in 1994; for women, it was 24.5. That's an increase of more than three years since 1975.

Income. At $32,264, median household income for 1994 (the latest figure used in the study) is virtually the same as in 1993. The overall trend, however, has been downward; in 1989, income was about $2,200 higher than today.

Some parts of the country are faring better than others. The South, for instance, still has the lowest median income of any region of the nation, at $30,021. The West is highest, at $34,452. But Southern incomes are increasing. They jumped an estimated 3 percent between 1993 and 1994.

Health insurance. About 15 percent of the population - 40 million people - did not have any type of health insurance in 1994. Not surprising, the poor were much less likely to have such coverage: About 30 percent of those living in poverty weren't covered by a health plan.

Sixteen percent of full-time workers didn't have health insurance, as opposed to 20 percent of part-time employees.

The Foreign-born. People born in another country now make up 9 percent of the American population. That's the highest figure since World War II. As recently as 1970, only 5 percent of US residents had been born in another land. But it's far from the highest percentage this century. In 1910, 15 percent of the US population was foreign-born.

Hispanics are the largest immigrant group, accounting for 46 percent of those born elsewhere. California has the most immigrants of any state at 8 million, almost one-third of the total for the whole country. New York is the state with the second-highest number, at 3 million; and Florida is third, with 2 million.

Mobility. US residents aren't loading up their possessions and moving from place to place as often as they did in the mid-1980s. Between March 1993 and March 1994, 43 million Americans moved - about 17 percent of the population. By contrast, in 1983-84, 20 percent of the country's residents changed households, according to Census Bureau figures.

Not that most of those movers went very far. Fully 62 percent of movers changed residences within the same county. Only about 7 million people pulled up roots and went to another state.

Housing. The US homeownership rate was largely unchanged in 1994, with about 64 percent of American residents occupying a housing unit they owned. Typically, those houses, condominiums, and co-ops are older than they used to be - the median age of US housing units is 28 years, according to the latest figures, an increase of six years since 1973.

But US housing may be in better condition than in the past. Housing units are more likely to have complete kitchens, central plumbing and heat, and central air-conditioning than they were in 1973.

Only 4 percent now have peeling paint, compared with 5 percent 26 years ago. Five percent have open cracks, as opposed to 6 percent in 1973.

Child care: For many employed Americans, the care of young children remains a significant concern. Almost 10 million US kids under 5 need supervision while their mothers are at work, according to the Census Bureau.

About 40 percent of these children are cared for by relatives. Some 30 percent go to organized nursery schools or preschools. The average cost of US child care was $74 a week in 1993.

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