July 08, 2002
How do poor consumers differ from average consumers? One way is that the distribution of family types is quite different across the two groups.
Among poor consumer households, 61.8 percent contained only a single individual in 1999. In comparison, among other households in the expenditure distribution, only 20.4 percent consist of a single individual.
Also notable is that husband-and-wife type families comprise just over a tenth of households in the poor consumer group, but over half of households in the rest of the expenditure distribution. Single-parent families account for 13.5 percent of the poor consumer households and 7.4 percent of the others.
For this analysis, "poor consumers" consist of households in the lowest decile of the expenditure distribution. "Average consumers" are represented by the averages for the remainder of the expenditure distribution. Full-time college students and homeowners who no longer have mortgage payments are excluded from this study.
These data are a product of the Consumer Expenditure Survey program. "Household" is used here as a synonym for the technical term "consumer unit." Consumer units are 1) members of a household related by blood, marriage, adoption, or other legal arrangement; 2) a person living alone, or sharing a household with others, but who is responsible for at least 2 of 3 major types of expenses: food, housing, and other expenses; or 3) two or more persons living together who pool their income to make joint expenditure decisions. For additional information, see "Characteristics and spending patterns of consumer units in the lowest 10 percent of the expenditure distribution," (PDF, 23K), Issues in Labor Statistics, Summary 01-02.