Morton Marcus

The phone rang. I ran to it just as I was trained to do in childhood. “Don’t answer it,” a rational voice inside my head commanded. “Find out who it is,” whispered my inquisitive internal guide.

“Hello,” I said. A voice without gender asked, “How much do Hoosiers in each county typically spend?”

I offered a counter question: “What do I win if I give you those numbers?”

“An all-expenses paid week in Doolittle Mills, just off I-64 in Perry County,” came the answer.

“Deal,” I said, thinking that must be where the Indiana Legislature meets. Then, without any protective gear, I jumped into the data pit and proceeded to fashion some numbers, since I knew of no source for such information.

This is what I constructed: From the 2017 Consumer Expenditure Survey (Bureau of Labor Statistics), I found the average annual spending in the U.S. by age of “the reference person.” (We used to call that person “the head of household,” but it’s not for the government to raise the status of one person over another and start a family brawl.)

In households where the reference person was under age 25, the expenditures averaged $33,629 in 2017. This figure almost doubles to $62,150 for those entering midlife (25 to 44). For those in their prime (45 to 64), it creeps up to $69,334. Then, in the “golden years” (65 and older), average spending declines to an annual rate of $49,542.

Now all I needed was to find the number of households for each of those age groups in each of our 92 counties. As I dug deeper into the pit, I saw there the Pixie of Presumption. And then did the Pixie speak unto me: “Who would object if you presumed the age distribution of the householders, those reference persons, was the same as the population of the county?”

Now the light was so bright I was forced to shield my eyes. But the path was clearly laid before me. I sprang into the American Community Survey (ACS) from the Bureau of the Census, found the table with the 2017 age distribution of residents for each Indiana county, and applied those data to the number of households in the county.

With the speed of a blender attacking fresh veggies, I was ready to pour my results. The next time the phone rang, I told the robotic voice, “Total spending by Cass County (Logansport) residents in 2017 was $895 million and 45 percent of that sum was spent by persons 45 to 64 years old. This despite the fact they were only 36 percent of the county’s householders.”

“Those really aren’t good figures,” the artificially intelligent voice objected. “Right,” I replied. “You got any better numbers?”

— Morton Marcus is an economist. If you would like spending numbers for your county, reach him at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com. Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available or at mortonjohn.libsyn.com