consumer spending

According to the latest government data, U.S. consumers are enjoying higher income levels, and are spending more on entertainment — but are giving less to charitable organizations. They’re also spending more on food — at restaurants as well as at home.

With apparel, shoppers spent more money than they had in the previous year, reversing a year-over-year decline. The gains were buoyed by higher average incomes.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) crunched the numbers on consumer expenditures from July of 2017 through June of 2018, and found that household income before taxes had gained 4.3 percent to an average of $76,335. From that average income, consumers spent a total of $60,815, which is a 4 percent gain from the prior year.

Spending on “entertainment” was the bigger gainer, rising 14.9 percent. The BLS said it was bolstered by strong gains in expenditures on entertainment supplies, equipment and services. The category includes spending on outdoor recreation and related services and equipment, which the BLS said last year is experiencing gains that are outpacing GDP growth.

Related story: U.S. Government Says Outdoor Recreation Industry Growth Outpaces GDP

Consumer spending on apparel and related services grew 4.5 percent, which compares to a decline of 1.3 percent in the same period in the prior year’s report. Education spending showed a 9.7 percent gain, which “was due to expenditure increases for elementary and high school tuition and for finance, late, and interest charges on student loans,” the BLS said.

Researchers said in the report that spending on food gained 6.2 percent, and “was driven by food at home which increased 7.9 percent, while food away from home rose 4.2 percent.” Health-care expenditures rose 4.5 percent. The BLS noted that health-care costs have clocked gains every year since 1996. In this most recent midyear report, the increase was fueled by a 6.3 percent increase in health insurance expenditures.

The BLS said that cash contributions declined 11.9 percent. “The category incorporates a wide array of giving and financial obligations including charitable contributions, support for college students, child support, alimony, and other gifts of cash and financial instruments to individuals and organizations not part of the household,” authors of the report said. “Contributions to charities and other nonprofit organizations, excluding religious and educational, accounted for much of this decrease.”