story of 2 americas part 1 – the haves


This is a story about 2 Americas and the recession.

This is a story about the haves and the have nots.

PewResearch calls this the story of the “One Recession, 2 Americas.”

And this article focuses on the ‘haves.’


Let me begin with the fact that a lot of people are making a lot of money writing points of view on the effect of the recession on people’s behavior.  And while I am not making any money on the topic I surely have written my point of view on the ongoing behavioral effect the recession will have on consumer shopping.

What I do know for sure is that there have been a lot of sweeping generalizations.

And I also know for sure that the media hasn’t helped in forging a quasi-untrue belief that the recession has affected everyone’s behavior and crippled the economy.


It hasn’t.

A little less then ½ of American households are holding their own (and behavior wise aren’t doing a whole lot different than they were before).  I have research to support that statement (although I believe it without research).


I am going to try and make two points here. First is on current behavior. And second will be what current behavior means to ongoing (future) behavior.


Current behavior. Let’s try this factoid out to maybe reset everyone’s thinking a little.

45% of Americans said they have “held their own” during the recession (PewResearchCenter 9/10).

This 45% of Americans have made some different fiscal decisions but the majority has done nothing differently (per the research).

Look.  I am not suggesting that 55% saying they were affected should be ignored (and in fact my next post will be about them) but I am suggesting that there are a boatload of people who are just humming along like they have always been doing (and many are hiding their behavior out of guilt in front of the other 55%). And I do recognize that this study didn’t deeply measure all the attitudinal things that come along with a recession so I imagine even the 45% of America thought some ‘fear’ things and probably were more cautious about expenditures. But the research shows some interesting things about this group that represents almost half of America:

–        Only 4% of this group say they have increased debt to pay bills

–        Only about 30% said they have cut back on the amount they are saving

–        About 50% of this group said the single biggest adjustment they have on their lives is changing some spending patterns (“we cut back on some luxuries & vacations”  – me: didn’t eliminate – “we eat out less often”- me: didn’t eliminate)

Note: Pew calls this a minor adjustment

–        As for ‘major adjustments?

NO (that’s zero to all my readers) members of this group say the recession has “caused them to make any major changes in the way they live” (yikes). Yes. 45% of Americans made no major adjustments to their behavior.

–        Halfway into the 3rd year of a recession 50% of this group report they are “living quite comfortably” (thank you very much)

Just some interesting things before I move on (just some factoids).

This 45% is more likely to live in suburbs & rural areas and on the east coast, be older, higher educated and more affluent.

Ok. Basically “the haves” (the upper & upper middle income) pretty much was sheltered and lower middle class and lower income got screwed (but that is a different post about the increasing split between the haves and the have nots).


Ongoing behavior.

Let’s think about some of the implications from the current behavior research information.

Basically 45% of America hasn’t changed current behavior.

So common sense would tell you that their ongoing and future behavior won’t change.

The haves will continue to “feed” the American “can do” spirit and “bigger/more is better” attitude. And, oh by the way, they will continue to grow and increase the gap between themselves and the have nots.  At an increasing speed. Yes.  This 45% will foster whatever positive growth arises from the recession but they will benefit more so (and foster a very healthy luxury segment to the dismay of the have nots).

Let me finish this thought by saying 45% of America is a boatload of people.

Mucho people and mucho money.

Not to say 55% isn’t a bigger number but 45% ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at (and they represent a disproportionate percentage of the overall American wealth).

So before you say “the recession has changed the way the business will be conducted forever” just take a moment and remember … 45% of America doesn’t seem to have changed a bit.

Looking ahead.

My next post is about the “have nots” or what the PewResearch calls “Lost Ground” (the 55% of those who seem to be truly affected by the recession).

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Written by Bruce