Some people are a bit too e-connected: carrying their smartphones around like fifth limbs, endlessly checking their screens, ignoring their children in favor of cat photos or an updated Facebook status.
The recent Bank of America “Trends in Consumer Mobility Report” indicates just how wired some of us have become. Nine out of 10 respondents said their smartphones are just as important to their daily lives as deodorant and toothbrushes.
I see a distinct difference: If you forget to use the phone your coworkers won’t look trapped when you enter their cubicles.
Just 7 percent of respondents find it annoying when someone checks a phone during mealtime. Personally, I think that unless you’re waiting for the transplant center to call about that kidney, you should back away from the phone now and then. Meals eaten with other people are an excellent place to start.
If they had to give something up to be able to get access to a cellphone, the majority of respondents (45 percent) said “alcohol.” Which, of course, would solve the problem of drunk-dialing.
Chocolate and shopping were the other highest-ranked sacrifices, at 34 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
As for frequency of cellphone checks throughout the day, 35 percent say they check it “constantly.” Even at mealtimes, apparently.
Blue denim theory
The NerdWallet personal finance site has come up with a rather novel cost of living gauge: the Back-to-School Jeans Index.
Based on the average cost of boys’ blue denim jeans (brands such as Lee, Levi’s or Wrangler in sizes 8-20), the study gauges “differences in affordability” across the United States. When median income is compared to a region’s denim cost, the resulting jeans index shows just how fortunate (or screwed) you are.
The cheapest jeans ($11.13) were in Harlingen, Texas, and the most expensive ($39.99) in Providence, Rhode Island. Factoring cost plus income, it’s six times more expensive to buy your kid’s jeans in Providence (where you could afford only 850 pairs) than in Harlingen (2,726 pairs).
Nationwide, the median price is $21.47 while the median household income is $51,371. That translates to 2,393 pairs of jeans. Of course, you’d want to save some money for little things like food, shelter and retirement. And for shirts, shoes and socks, unless you want your kid sent home from school.
How many jobs do you need?
The multiple-jobholding rate in the United States has slowly declined or remained flat since 1996, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average is that 4.9 percent of U.S. residents hold two or more jobs.
I happen to live in one of the states whose rate increased: from 6.1 percent in 2012 to 6.7 percent in 2013. But at least we’re not Vermont, where the numbers went from 8.6 to 8.8, or South Dakota, where numbers dropped but are still high: from 9.5 to 8.9.
Every state in the West North Central Census division (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota) had rates that were noticeably higher than the national average. So did all but one of the states in the Pacific division and all but two states in the New England division.
The BLS didn’t offer explanations. Here’s what I think:
- Good jobs are hard to find and/or you’re in a line of work that pays out only part of the year (hunting guide, farmer).
- It costs more to live in colder places than warm ones. Five of the eight states with rates significantly lower than the national average were in the South.
In addition, these figures don’t include under-the-table work. Plenty of people who have more month than money get by with help from moonlighting: yard work, babysitting, housecleaning, and buying and selling items.
I once interviewed a guy who made a pretty penny by claiming dead mowers, snowblowers and the like from alongside Dumpsters or from the “free” section of Craigslist. He fixed them up (usually it was as simple as changing the spark plugs) and then sold them – you guessed it! – on Craigslist.
Did he report the income? I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s pretty easy to get away with not reporting the profit from side hustles. An economist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimates the “underground economy” was as much as $2 trillion last year. Some believe that these unreported dollars are what’s keeping the economy afloat in the short term.
A lot of folks wouldn’t be able to make ends meet without those cash influxes, no matter how many jobs they officially hold. The last thing they want to do is pay taxes on their irregular income. When you’re working in minimum-wage or seasonal labor, it can be hard to stay abreast of basic expenses, like heating oil. Or blue jeans.