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What's in a Number?

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I was frankly surprised (ok, and delighted) by the number of "views" my last Huffington Post blog received. I know it was celebrity-oriented, which helps, and I had fun with a tongue-in-cheek view of how there's no escaping media coverage, even as I was on my way in and out of surgery.

In between reading other peoples' posts, financial reports and political news, I was fascinated by some other numbers I encountered during the past few days.

BUSINESS WEEK reported that Americans aged 20-34 spend on average only 10 minutes per day reading for pleasure, far less than people 45 and over.

Associated Press pointed out that, as the economy worsens, more people in their 40s and 50s are moving back in with their parents. The results of an AARP poll in the story said that one-fourth of "Generation X-ers" (28 to 39 years old) received financial help from family and friends.

USA TODAY headlined a story about a PBS special, "Can wealth affect health," and the answer was clearly yes. The findings were fascinating and included:

--The more years parents owned their own home, the less likely the offspring was to develop a cold.

--For Americans who report "good health," 71 percent had annual income over $80,000. Only 37 percent of those reporting good health had incomes under $20,000.

--The under $20,000 income group also reported that 13.9 percent had been diagnosed with diabetes. For those making between $40,000 and $60,000 12 percent had been diagnosed with diabetes. Only 6.5 percent of those making more than $80,000 had diabetes.

AARP BULLETIN points out that the Americans aged 50 and over make up less than a third of the population, yet control 50 percent of the discretionary income. (Marketers and advertisers, are you listening?) The article went on to list where the money goes after taxes, housing, health care and other essentials. Starting with the largest expenses, the list included:

1) Retirement savings deposits

2) Cash gifts

3) Restaurants/carryout

4) Education

5) Cable TV/satellite service,

followed by furniture, cellphone service, life insurance, hotels, airfare, pets, RVs, cigarettes, vacation homes, legal fees, postage and stationery, wine, cosmetics/perfume/bath preparations, reading materials and beer. At the very end of the list, starting with the least spending, are:

1) Dating services

2) Wigs and hairpieces

3) Adult day care center

4) Shopping club membership

5) Watches.

So, what's in the numbers? It means continued employment for the pollsters and numbers crunchers and more guessing about what difficult-to-categorize people will decide between now and November. It's not easy to add all this up, but it sure is fascinating to observe what the numbers say about us.

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