World and Nation

Census Offers a Snapshot Tinted by Recession

A smaller share of Americans married, drove to work alone, owned a home or moved to a new residence last year than the year before.

More lived in overcrowded housing. Property values declined. And fewer immigrants arrived, which meant that for the first time since the beginning of the decade, the total number of foreign-born people in the country did not grow.

Those were among the findings released Monday in the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, a wealth of data comparing the nation’s profile in 2008 with that of 2007.

Several experts, including Mark Mather, associate vice president for domestic programs at the Population Reference Bureau, said a number of the changes could be attributed to the national recession, which began at the end of 2007. The result is an early statistical snapshot of the economic downturn and the housing bust.

For example, after rising steadily since 2000, median home values dropped in 2008, and the homeownership rate fell half a point, to 66.6 percent, the lowest since 2002. Among blacks, who have been disproportionately affected by foreclosures, homeownership fell a full point, to 45.6 percent.

Furthermore, in a country where people typically move to take advantage of better job opportunities, those who changed residences fell to 15 percent in 2008, from a recent peak of 16 percent in 2006.

“Job loss, or the potential for job loss, leads to feelings of economic insecurity,” Mather said, with implications for additional matters like the timing of divorce and marriage. Such insecurity appears to have added to a longer trend in which the share of people over age 15 who have never married increased to 31 percent last year from 27 percent in 2000.

The latest figures appear likely to fuel political debates on subjects as varied as health care (the rate of uninsured children last year ranged as high as 20 percent, in Nevada) and immigration (fewer newcomers appear to be illegal or unnaturalized immigrants).

Earlier private and government surveys suggested that immigration was slowing, but these were the first annual census figures showing it to be stagnant.

“We’ve had an economic downturn, and that may well be affecting the attractiveness of the United States as a destination,” said Thomas A. Gryn, a statistician with the bureau’s immigration statistics staff. William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, said: “The general economic malaise in the U.S. has drawn fewer immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere. At the same time, there are increases in high-skilled immigrants from India” and some other Asian countries.

The statistics also showed that real median household income declined nationwide, rising in only five states — New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Louisiana and Texas — compared with 33 states in 2007. It ranged from $37,790 in Mississippi to $70,545 in Maryland.

Income inequality was highest in metropolitan New York, where the top fifth of households received 20 times as much as the bottom fifth.

The median price of an owner-occupied home fell nationally (by 2 percent, to $197,600) and in 22 states.