Older, down-scale and ethnically-diverse singles typically concentrated in inner-city apartments
Hard Times are the most economic-challenged consumers in the US. In these diverse households found in aging city neighborhoods, some 40 percent are African-American and disproportionate numbers are Hispanic and Asian. Most of the adults are between 50 and 75 years old, and they’re living on their own as single, divorced or widowed individuals. With their low educational achievement - only 10 percent have a college degree - they earn minimum wages as service-sector workers. One-quarter of households contain a retiree, increasing the number of residents getting by on fixed incomes. In Hard Times, a majority of householders report incomes of less than $15,000 a year, nearly a fifth of the national average.
The neighborhoods of Hard Times are typically filled with high- and low-rise apartment projects. Found mostly in cities east of the Mississippi, many of these complexes were built in the urban renewal of the 1960s to 1980s, when tenement row houses in downtown ghettos were bulldozed to create new housing for the poor and disadvantaged. Today, however, these buildings are often dilapidated and the communities are no place to sink in roots and raise a family. Indeed, a majority of segment residents have lived at the same address for fewer than three years.
While Hard Times may be financially-challenged, these unattached singles still take advantage of city amenities. They regularly go out to local establishments and casinos. A relatively high number of segment members work in education and have a passion for the arts; they go to plays, dance performances and classical music concerts. At home, these multi-ethnic households like to listen to salsa and soul, read books and magazines and work out on treadmills and rowing machines. However, they’re unlikely to engage in outdoor sports like fishing and hunting. These are city folks who prefer billiards to backpacking.
In the marketplace, these households cannot escape their meager budgets. They often juggle credit cards to stay afloat, rarely paying off their balances each month. Because two-thirds do not own a car, Hard Times tend to patronize local stores within walking distance of their home. They do enjoy shopping and keeping up with the latest styles, however. A big excursion for these price-sensitive folks is a trip to Macy’s or Marshalls; they’re more likely to pick up necessities at a Kmart or Family Dollar store. With money tight, they rarely eat out, not even at fast-food restaurants. Many would prefer to buy fresh foods at neighborhood markets for home cooking, though they typically settle for what they can afford at the local grocery store.
Limited means in Hard Times results in a selective media market. They lack the cars to make a drive-time audience. Few afford to have a newspaper delivered to their apartments. However, they enjoy TV, especially news programs, movies, dramas and sitcoms. They do read a wide range of magazines - from Men’s Health and Popular Mechanics to Ebony and the National Enquirer. While few go online, their interests are similarly eclectic in the digital world: social networking, health, fantasy sports.
Hard Times members refuse to be defined by their economic circumstances. They sign up for adult education courses, they’re constantly looking for better jobs, and they’re trying to pursue meaningful lives that don’t require a lot of money. Politically, they tend to be moderates who support the Democratic Party. Despite being single, transient and downscale, many are involved in their communities. They support local arts groups, advocate recycling and are willing to volunteer for a good cause. Given their optimism in the face of hardship, their lifestyle seems destined to improve.
This is the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, the poorest lifestyle segment in the nation. Hard Times are older singles in poor city neighborhoods. Nearly three-quarters of the adults are between the ages of 50 and 75; this is an underclass of the working poor and destitute seniors without family support. Two-thirds are single, divorced or widowed. This is a diverse community, with about 40 percent of households African-American, four times the national average, along with solid concentrations of Hispanics and Asians. Poorly-educated, nearly half of household heads never graduated from high school. They typically hold jobs as service-sector workers in education and public administration. One-quarter of the households have at least one resident who’s retired.
Located primarily in aging cities in the eastern half of the country in places like Detroit, Mich., Saint Louis., Mo., Harrisburg, Pa., and Washington, D.C., Hard Times is a world of worn housing projects and tenement row houses. Home values, at roughly $135,000, are about a third below the U.S. average. With many earning only minimum wages, few own a home; more than 90 percent are renters. While more than a third live in high-rise buildings, most reside in low-rise rental units. In this bleak world, residents rarely stay more than a few years, so intent are they to find better jobs and safer accommodations. Nearly half have lived at the same address for fewer than three years and two-thirds for fewer than five years.
Despite the low-income economics, the lifestyle in Hard Times can appear lively. Many try to take advantage of their city’s amenities. They go to bars, casinos, museums, outdoor concerts, zoos and aquariums. More than a few have a cultural side, as seen in their occasional trip to a theater, classical music concert or dance performance; an above-average percentage belong to arts groups. At home, they tend to spend their time listening to music - salsa, soul and easy listening are popular - reading books, watching TV and doing hobbies like needlework or collecting crystal figures. They still find time to exercise indoors on treadmills, rowing machines and mats for aerobics. Most shy away from rugged outdoor activities like fishing, hunting, ice skating or water skiing.
Hard Times like to travel, especially those who are foreign-born; they regularly visit their home countries in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. They hardly travel in luxury: domestically, they’re more likely to travel by bus or train rather than plane. They stay at discount hotels like Motel 6, Howard Johnson and Travelodge.
While economically-challenged, these downscale consumers still find joy in consumption. They have a need for status recognition, and they look for clothes that will make an affordable fashion statement. Their top-rated retailers tend to be discount chains such as Kmart, Family Dollar Store, Marshalls and Ross Dress for Less. With only a third of householders owning a car, many adults prefer the convenience of shopping at local stores over the national chains, but they always wait for sales.
Hard Times have average interest in selected media. They’re only a modest audience for radio and few subscribe to a newspaper. Most rely on TV to stay informed, and they like watching movies, sitcoms, reality shows, newscasts and crime dramas. They also watch cable channels like FX, Hallmark Channel, BET, TNT and Spike. These residents are big fans of mainstream and ethnic-targeted magazines like Glamour, Architectural Digest, Ebony, Popular Mechanics and O. These households are not big on the Internet, but those that do have online access tend to visit sites that feature health information, gambling and classifieds.
They may live in poverty-stricken environments, but Hard Times are still ambitious, motivated and aspire to improve their standard of living. Even in middle age, they’re 40 percent more likely than average to sign up for adult education courses. They support the reprioritizing of money, saying that how they spend their time is more important than how much money they make. Nevertheless, they’d like to land a better job. At this stage of their lives, long time friends are more important than family members, and they want to earn the respect of their peers. They insist that doing one’s duty is more important than enjoying life.
With the majority of members unmarried, more than half say it’s important to be attractive, triple the national average. They make an effort to keep healthy, by exercising regularly, avoiding fast food and watching their calories. When they cook, they like to buy fresh, natural foods and avoid artificial additives.
Political moderates, a majority align themselves with the Democratic Party, and an above- average concentration claim to be Independents. These individualists swing between liberal and conservative stances. Religion plays a major role in their life, and they like watching religious programs on TV. While they’re not joiners, they do have a cultural streak and belong to arts groups. They care about their community, claiming that people have a duty to recycle; they also will volunteer their time for a good cause.
As the segment with the lowest income – under $24,000 - Hard Times earn less than a third of the national average. Most have few income-producing assets and possess no investments other than some tax-sheltered annuities and cash management accounts. They’re able to get by, they say, because they’re good at managing the money that they have. Many juggle several credit cards: they carry both debit and credit cards, and they have a number of bank, charge and retail credit cards, particularly from Sears and JCPenney. However, few pay off their cards each month - more than 70 percent below average. Where they especially stand out is in insurance - they carry life, health and renter’s insurance.
Hard Times are not very Internet-active. They do visit some Websites frequently, though, especially those that deal with the arts, health, gambling, dating and religion. However, they rarely go online for shopping, banking or making travel arrangements. While relatively few access the Internet through computers at home, they will go online using a mobile phone. Unlike many online users, they’re perfectly happy with receiving, and responding to, email ads.