The growing willingness of Southern Californians to spend can be considered a sign of prosperity, especially coming out of a terrifying economic downturn.
But the stubborn lack of growth of local incomes suggests this higher spending might be stretching local household budgets.
Once a year the federal government releases data detailing how much Americans spend. It’s part of the math that calculates the Consumer Price Index, and it’s quite detailed, tracking costs ranging from housing to dining out to gasoline to school books, doctor visits and recreation.
The latest expenditure tally shows consumer spending for the average household in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties grew by an average $11,659 in five years — to $66,971 a year in 2016-17 vs. $55,312 in 2011-2012.
That 21 percent gain is a heady recovery from the penny-pinching days just after the Great Recession ended. And it shows Southern Californian households spent 14 percent more than the typical American in 2016-17.
The buying binge is also is the result of the region’s surging costs of living, expenditures that create financial stress.
A key challenge for locals balancing the family checkbooks is that in these same five years the average Southern California incomes rose just $9,469 — only 10 percent — to $76,471 from $69,562. That means local households earned just 3 percent more than the average American in 2016-17.
So what drives the higher spending by Southern Californians? And what does my trusty spreadsheet tell us about how local spending compares with national consumer habits? Here’s a look at the five-year movement in key spending categories, in order of size of change …
$3,460 more on housing: So, nearly one-third of increased local spending involved putting a roof above one’s head. It’s a 17 percent jump to $24,310 spent per year. Southern California’s housing expenditures run 26 percent above the $19,360 spent nationally. That translates to housing being 36.3 percent of local expenditures vs. 33 percent nationwide.
$2,890 more on personal insurance and pensions: That’s a 52 percent jump to $8,510, an increase that is tied in part to more payroll taxes paid as more people work. Local expenditures run 25 percent above the $6,810 spent nationally. This cost is 12.7 percent of local spending vs. 11.6 percent nationwide.
$1,240 more on healthcare: Why is paying medical bills such a topic of debate? Because locally, this cost is up 46 percent to $3,950. Curiously, Southern Californian expenditures run 17 percent below the national norm of $4,750. The region’s slightly lower average age — 50 years here vs. 51 nationally — may be a factor.
$1,210 more on food: We’re spending 16 percent more, or $8,710, and 17 percent more than the typical American’s $7,450. Locally larger households — 2.8 per residence here vs. 2.5 nationally — may be one reason. Food is 13 percent of Southern Californian spending vs. 12.7 percent nationwide.
$880 more on transportation: Up 10 percent to $9,710 for everything from gasoline to mass transit to car purchases. By this math, locals spend just 4 percent more than the U.S. average $9,330. Transportation is 14.5 percent of Southern Californian spending vs. 15.9 percent nationwide.
$540 more on education: That’s a 37 percent jump to $2,010 — spending that’s 43 percent above the $1,410 national average. Education is 3 percent of local spending vs. 2.4 percent nationwide.
$360 more on entertainment: Up 15 percent to $2,750. We spend 10 percent less than the typical American’s $3,050. Could it be the (free) weather and nearby beaches? Or are stretched budgets limiting our fun? Entertainment is 4.1 percent of local spending vs. 5.2 percent nationwide.
$260 more on cash contributions: Donations are up 20 percent to $1,540. Locals don’t look very generous when these outlays run 23 percent below the nation’s $2,000 average. Look at the thriftiness this way: contributions are 2.3 percent of local spending vs. 3.4 percent nationwide.
$140 more on personal care products and services: Up 19 percent jump to $870 — 14 percent higher than the national norm of $760. Is it the gym or yoga and spa treatments?
$50 more on tobacco products: Our healthier lifestyle means this spending, while up 34 percent jump to $200 annually, is a stunning 43 percent under the $350 spent nationally.
$40 more on reading: As a wordsmith, I must say “Thank You!” for the 37 percent jump to $130 — $10 more annually than what’s spent nationally.
$10 less on apparel and services: The meager slip to $2,140 reflects falling clothing prices. Though it’s still 18 percent higher than the national norm of $1,820.
$10 less on alcoholic beverages: A surprising tiny dip to $600 a year. Still, the Southern Californians who smoke less than the national rate apparently like to spend more on imbibing: 13 percent higher spending on booze than the national norm.
Source: Orange County Register