Biden Inherits an Older, Polarized and Financially Insecure Nation
By Paul Overberg and Janet Adamy
President-elect Joe Biden is inheriting a country with an aging
population that is on shakier economic footing and is more
politically polarized than at most points in recent years.
Key metrics of financial and social well-being show the
challenges Mr. Biden faces as he moves into the White House on
Wednesday. The coronavirus pandemic halted the 11-year economic
expansion and drove up unemployment just as the typical American
household was starting to enjoy sustained income growth. Americans
were living longer -- an improvement from a period when the opioid
crisis eroded life expectancy -- until the pandemic exacted a
swift, deadly toll. One government official said life expectancy
could decline by the largest amount since World War II once the
government completes last year's mortality figures.
Long-running demographic trends also have shaped the country.
The U.S. is becoming more racially diverse. More Americans are
obtaining college degrees. Women are having fewer babies, and the
population is growing at its lowest rate in over a century.
After stagnating in the wake of the 2007-09 recession, America's
earnings gradually improved starting around the middle of the last
decade. Median household income was $68,700 in 2019, up 6.8% from
the prior year and the highest figure on record. The poverty rate
that year dipped to its lowest level since the government began
tracking it in 1959. Last year's figures are expected to show
disparities in whose incomes suffered, with some households being
better off because of stimulus payments and extra unemployment
The stock market has marched to near-record highs, lifting the
net worth of investors while leaving behind the nearly one half of
Americans who don't own stock. Consumer debt has climbed as
families have borrowed more heavily to stay in the middle
Joblessness was at a half-century low before the pandemic forced
businesses to close their doors temporarily, and in some cases
permanently, starting in March. The U.S. economy shed 9.4 million
jobs last year, the most in any year since records began in 1939,
and nearly double the number from 2009.
The U.S. debt as compared with the size of the economy reached
its highest point since the end of World War II, after government
spending to combat the fallout from the virus rose sharply and tax
An uptick in drug deaths and suicides began shortening U.S. life
expectancy midway through the last decade. That metric was starting
to improve until Covid-19 emerged last year to become the nation's
third leading cause of death, according to early estimates from
Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality-statistics branch of the
CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
Kenneth M. Johnson, a demographer at the University of New
Hampshire, estimates that the pandemic will cause deaths to outpace
births in more than half of U.S. counties in 2020 for the first
time in U.S. history. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of people
over age 55 grew by 27%, while the population under 55 grew at a
rate of 1.3%, according to estimates from the Brookings
Another historical first is that the country's non-Hispanic
white population shrunk toward the end of the last decade. The
number of Hispanics, Blacks and Asians in the U.S. continues to
grow, and the fastest-growing demographic is people of two or more
The share of noncitizens dropped steadily, falling below half of
all immigrants, as arrivals slowed under tighter controls and as a
steady stream of immigrants became citizens -- almost
three-quarters of a million a year.
After growing during the 2007-09 recession, the number of
America's uninsured began shrinking once the 2010 Affordable Care
Act took effect. The law subsidized private insurance coverage for
low and middle earners and gave states money to expand the Medicaid
insurance program for the poor. Those gains began to erode during
the Trump administration, when the number of Americans without
health insurance coverage at some point during the year rose for
the first time in a decade.
The share of Americans who identify as conservative or liberal
hasn't changed much over the past decade. But within the parties,
there has been a slight movement toward the more ardent corners of
each ideology. Among GOP registered voters, 37% identified as very
conservative in 2020, up from 33% in 2010, according to Wall Street
Journal polling. Among Democratic registered voters, 25% considered
themselves very liberal in 2020, up from 16% in 2010.
In terms of geographic mobility, Americans were relocating at
one of the lowest rates on record at the end of the last decade. In
recent years, the population growth of large metropolitan suburbs
and small metropolitan areas has outpaced the growth in urban cores
and sparsely populated parts of the country.
Write to Paul Overberg at firstname.lastname@example.org and Janet Adamy
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 20, 2021 09:56 ET (14:56 GMT)
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