Multi-ethnic singles and single-parent households with mid-scale incomes in city apartments
A racially- and ethnically-diverse segment, Humble Beginnings are among the nation’s least affluent. With more than two-thirds of households Hispanic and an above-average concentration of African Americans, these Generation Xers are striving to make ends meet. They face many challenges: incomes of half the national average, poor educations and low-level jobs in the service sector. Most are single, but they’re not alone. Nearly two-thirds of households consist of single parents and their children, one of the highest rates in the nation. As such, many of these recent immigrants are trying to raise children on low incomes, tight budgets and language challenges. In more than eight of ten households, Spanish is the predominant language spoken at home.
With these downscale demographics, Humble Beginnings typically live in crowded low-rise apartment complexes in cities throughout the West and South. Rents are cheap; the streets are often lined with small factories and parking lots rather than schools and parks. For many, however, these units are all they can afford, though the hope is to move up and out as soon as possible. In this transient world, a majority of residents have lived at the same address for less than a year.
In Humble Beginnings, there’s not a lot of money for active lifestyles. The adults pursue few leisure activities, other than the occasional movie, dance show or bingo game. They try to take their kids to free activities, such as baseball and soccer at local parks, or an occasional excursion to the zoo. These families spend a lot of free time at home, where they listen to Latin music, watch Spanish TV stations and read magazines such as People en Español or the English publication American Baby. They travel little, even to their hometowns in Mexico or the Caribbean.
Humble Beginnings find joy in consumption, but their thin wallets consign them to discount stores and clearance racks in upper-scale stores. They frequent a range of clothiers - from Family Dollar to Gap, Sears and JCPenney - to try and rein in their desire to buy the latest fashions. To support family requirements, they will shop at Kmart and Toys R Us. Few have much left every month to devote to savings, and these young families tend to have no investments and no interest-bearing bank accounts. They carry debit and credit cards but struggle to pay their bills every month. Only a third owns a car, which is usually a used subcompact from Detroit. Their one splurge is consumer electronics. If they can’t afford to take their kids on fancy vacations, at least they can outfit their homes with large-screen TVs and MP3 players. A number of households pay for premium cable channels each month.
Despite the downscale landscape - or perhaps because of it - Humble Beginnings feel driven to succeed, so they can impress their family and peers. They remain devoted parents who like to indulge their kids and protect them from the harsher realities of crime and transient populations within their neighborhoods. While they are not very politically active, these residents do get involved in their church and community. They’re willing to support a good cause if it will better their neighborhood and, more importantly, their own standard of living.
Humble Beginnings are an ethnically-diverse segment filled with singles and single parents living in city apartments. About two-thirds of the household heads are Hispanic - a majority from Mexico- and nearly 15 percent are African-American. Most of the adults are Generation Xers between 35 and 50, and nearly three-quarters have not finished high school. Almost two-thirds of the households contain single parents and their children, the highest rate in the nation. They work in lower-echelon blue-collar and service-sector jobs in manufacturing, trucking and food services; advancement is hindered among the one-third of households where Spanish is the main language spoken.
Centered in big and second-tier cities in the West and South, Humble Beginnings typically live in downscale industrial areas. Nearly all are renters, the highest concentration in the nation, and they tend to live in crowded, garden-style apartment complexes and mobile home parks that were built between 1960 and 1990. Home values are cheap - less than $118,000 on average. Few residents sink in roots in these areas, where more than half have lived at the same residence less than a year. For these child-rearing families, the transient world also makes it harder for children to succeed and break the cycle of low educational achievement in their families.
Without a lot of discretionary income for many leisure pursuits, Humble Beginnings have relatively low-key lifestyles. For nightlife, they like going to movies, dance performances, neighborhood events and music concerts. On the weekend, they gather at parks to play soccer and baseball or take their kids to a zoo, aquarium and, occasionally, a theme park. They can’t afford to travel much so they spend a lot of time at home doing hobbies like cooking and needlework along with playing with their kids.
Humble Beginnings like to shop and have aspirational tastes, but they’re always aware of their financial realities. They say that they like to keep up with new styles and look better in latest fashions. They have to struggle not to spend more than they can afford; they shop at discount department stores like Kmart and Sears as well as more mid-market retailers like Gap, Old Navy and Costco. They believe imported cars convey more status, but they can only afford a used subcompact from a domestic manufacturer. The one area where they’re willing to spend freely is consumer electronics: they state that they’ll pay anything for a desired gadget, and they buy MP3 players, plasma TVs and new cameras.
Humble Beginnings have bilingual media tastes. They enjoy listening to the radio all day, and their taste in music ranges from Latin ballads and salsa to hip hop and children’s tunes. They like to keep up with Latin news, music and sports on TV, and they’re twice as likely as other Hispanic Americans to watch CNN Español, HBO Latino and Univision, in addition to English mainstream cable channels like BET and MTV. They also look to magazines to stay informed, reading a variety of publications, including Ebony, American Baby, Cosmopolitan en Español and National Geographic en Español. Their Internet habits are similarly mixed. This is one of the few segments where members say both that the Internet has had no impact on their life and that they’re sleeping less because of the Internet. In a segment as diverse as this one, that dichotomy is no surprise.
Humble Beginnings are all about economic success. Unhappy with their current status, they want to seize opportunities in life. While family is important to them, they’re willing to sacrifice family time to get ahead. Driven by ambition, they’re more than twice as likely as the general population to want to set up their own businesses. Self-described workaholics, they want to earn more money to gain respect from the friends and family. “Money is the best measure of success,” they’ll tell you.
Away from their jobs, these single parents try to indulge their children and are always willing to include them in family discussions. As many are religious, they want to set a good example for their children by being actively involved in their church and regularly attending services. Despite being unattached, these adults care about their community and enjoy being surrounded by people with different cultural traditions. They will volunteer their time for a good cause and participate in a protest if they feel strongly about the issue. Politically, they tend to have liberal views. Few register to vote or join a political party, so many are less engaged in the political life of the community.
Humble Beginnings are one of the most financially-challenged segments. At about $35,000, their average income ranks in the bottom tenth of the nation. These households struggle to set aside savings or accumulate any income-producing assets. Many simply distrust banks and have no accounts at any financial institutions; fewer than 5 percent have a brokerage account. They also don’t buy many insurance products. A small number have managed to qualify for debit and credit cards. These households occasionally secure a loan to buy a car, but otherwise they handle most of their finances using cash.
The downscale singles in Humble Beginnings have only modest budgets that they can devote to digital technology. Unable to afford Internet access at home, they go online at the library, their children’s school and, increasingly, using their mobile phone. They tend to use the Internet for entertainment or communications; they will instant-message friends, download music files and get sports scores. Among their favorite Websites are Disney, NFL.com, InboxDollars and FreeSlots. Many see more Internet activities in the future, as a high number plan to enhance their Internet service in the next year.