Disunited States of America

September 30, 1997|By Richard Reeves

NEW YORK -- The founding fathers of the United States created a republic of 13 states that has grown to 50 over a period of more than 200 years.

Prosperity grew with the size and population of a business-driven country in which founding marketers divided us into 42 states of consuming.

That number, 42, is made up -- sort of. There are a million business breakdowns (or breakups) of the American people, based on charts and databases recording how much we make, what we buy, and what we might buy.

It is not, of course, just Fuller brushes, Avon lipsticks and Amway detergents being peddled in these days of computerized telephone calls and infomercials. The fastest-growing businesses in the country these days are "financial services," which means people persuading you that if you give them some of your money, they will "grow" it -- for a price or a piece of the action.

I came across a financial services company's listing of 42 disunited states of America, putting us in our place by classifying how much we're worth, if anything, and by such revealing touches as whether we watch Court TVor listen to gospel radio, whether we drink vodka or beer.

The list of these new states is called P$ycle, prepared by a company called Claritas. Some of what they do seems like common sense, some is perceptive, some is fun or funny.

Residents of State 02, "Affluent Retired," are said to own blood-pressure monitors. Residents of State 14, "Greenbelt Achievers," own gas chain saws. Residents of State 31, "Lower-Middle Exurban Owners," go freshwater fishing.

This is America, says Claritas. "The P$ycle model draws on the five economic and demographic factors that have the greatest effect on consumers' financial behavior -- income-producing assets, total household income, age of household head, home ownership, urbanization."

The lucky folks of State 01, "The Wealth Market," have "income-producing assets of more than $1 million, purchase corporate bonds, make three or more personal plane trips a year, shop at Saks Fifth Avenue and listen to news radio."

The folks on the bottom, the "Downscale Struggling Seniors" of State 42, have incomes of less than $14,900, watch daytime television, buy pipe tobacco and shop at Woolworth's -- or did until that chain closed down last month.

(The new super-rich, building trophy homes or helping out the United Nations, are above categories. Probably they are the Americans using such market lists to sell their wares to the rest of us.)

Where do you fit in? Here is a partial list with condensed data: 02: The "Affluent Retired" still have incomes above $50,000 and buy municipal bonds.

03: The "Comfortably Retired" make between $35,000 and $50,000 and listen to golden-oldies radio.

04: "High Asset Pre-Retired Investors" are 55 or older, make more than $75,000 a year, watch Bravo and travel to Asia.

05: "High Asset Suburban Boomers" also make more than $75,000, but they are between 35 and 54, and buy espresso machines and read airline magazines.

06: "High Asset Exurban Boomers" are in the same age range but watch the Travel Channel and buy Mont Blanc pens.

07: "Elite Pre-Retired Spenders" are worth less than $100,000, but make enough to buy modems and belong to a book club.

08: "Metro Elite Boomers" buy imported wines and take more than three business plane trips a year.

09: "Exurban Elite Boomers" are worth less than $100,000, too, but earn more than $75,000, have second mortgages and watch the Disney Channel.

10: "Young Savvy Elites," under 35, make more than $75,000 but don't save much, play volleyball, read computer magazines.

So it goes. In the next 10 states, most people make between $50,000 and $75,000 a year. Some, though, have incomes as low as $15,000 a year, but they save as much as they can, which makes them more desirable financial services customers than bigger earners buying expensive cars or a lot of CDs.

The people living in the 20s states are identified by such words as "Traditionals" ... "Climbers" ... "Spenders" ... "Renters" ... "Striving." They are younger and buy such things as GMC trucks and diet pills. They go to Sea World and they lift weights.

The 30s states are filled with young people who make less than $25,000 a year, and with retired people who may have some money but don't buy much. They hunt and smoke menthol cigarettes, shop at Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven.

In State 40, young folks drink rum and watch Spanish-language television.

In 41, "Downscale Sun Belt Security," the next-to-last state of this consumer America, the residents are over 65 and buy lottery tickets and drink brandy.

"Precision marketing" is the motto of this 42-state America. It is a place where you are what you buy.

I am going now to the State of 12, the home of "Established Empty Nesters," not because I am one (we have a 12-year-old daughter), but because that is the highest-ranked place where residents are described as "avid newspaper readers."

Richard Reeves writes a syndicated column.

Pub Date: 9/30/97

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