The Office of Consumer Affairs

August 1998 Report


DOC Consumer-Related Activities


The following agencies are included in this report:


Bureau of the Census

Economic and Statistics Administration (ESA)

Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA)

International Trade Administration (ITA)

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

National Technical and Information Service (NTIS)




$ More than 3 Million Young Adults Constitute ADropout Pool@:

-- Thirteen percent of the nation=s young adults between 18 and 24 years old were neither high school graduates nor enrolled in school in October 1996.

-- Eleven percent of elementary school students and 8 percent of high school students attended private schools.

-- Nearly 3 in 10 high school students ages 15 and over held down jobs.

-- About 4 of every 10 college students were 25 years old or over and 55 percent were women.

For questions about the data, contact Jennifer Day or Andrea Curry (301-457-2464). For more information, see School Enrollment--Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 1996 (Update) (P20-500). For ordering information, contact Customer Services (301-457-4100). The Internet address is:


$ Hectic Lifestyles Make for Record-Low Election Turnout:

-- Nearly 5 million voters said they did not vote in the 1996 presidential election because they couldn=t take off from work or school or were otherwise too busy.

-- Fifty-four percent of the voting-age population reported voting in the 1996 general election, down from 61 percent in 1992. The decline was the largest drop between consecutive presidential elections since 1964.

-- The peak ages for voting were between 55 and 74; more than 7 out of every 10 citizens in this age group cast a ballot. For questions about the data, contact Lynne Casper or Loretta Bass (301-457-2445).

For more information, see Voting and Registration in the Election of November 1996 (P20-504). For ordering information, contact Customer Services (301-457-4100). The Internet address is:


$ Poverty is a Transitory Condition for Many, Chronic Condition for a Few:

-- In 1994, 55 million people, representing 21 percent of the nation=s population were poor for at least two consecutive months; in 1993, the figures were 56 million and 22 percent.

-- The proportion of people who were poor at some point during one of these calendar years (about 22 percent) was four times greater than the proportion who were poor every month of both calendar years (about 5 percent).

-- Among those who became poor at some point during the 35 months of interviews, one-half were poor for less than 5 months.

For questions about the data, contact Mary Naifeh (301-457-3213). For more information, see Dynamics of Economic Well-Being, Poverty 1993-1994: Trap Door? Revolving Door? Or Both?

For ordering information, contact Customer Services (301-457-4100). The Internet address is:




Selected Consumer-Related Information

$ Consumer prices rose 0.2 percent in July following a 0.1 percent gain in June and a 0.3 percent rise in May. Over the last 12 months consumer prices have increased only 1.7 percent. The core rate of inflation (prices excluding food and energy) also increased 0.2 percent in July and is up only 2.2 percent over the past 12 months. Over the same period energy prices dropped 5.6 percent and food prices were up 2.2 percent.

$ Income after taxes (also referred to as disposable personal income) increased 0.5 percent in July following increases averaging nearly 0.3 percent in the three prior months.

$ Consumer spending declined 0.2 percent following average gains of nearly 0.7 percent in the previous three months. All of the decline was in outlays for durable goods.

$ Automobile sales dropped 18 percent in July as the GM strike effects adversely affected supply. The strike-related decline followed increases averaging nearly 2.5 percent in April, May and June. Light truck sales showed a similar-sized decline following increases averaging 3.9 percent since February.

$ Housing starts increased 5.7 percent in July following an equal increase in June, reaching their highest level since March 1987.

$ Mortgage commitment interest rates moved below the 7 percent level in August and continued to the mid-6 percent level and lower in early September. This compares with a 7.5 percent rate a year ago.




$ National Urban League (NUL): Director attended the NUL=s conference in Philadelphia, August 3-5, 1998 to learn more about the efforts to bridge the technology gap in our urban centers and to network with leaders of such efforts. Several workshops discussed the divide between Ahaves@ and Ahave-nots@ as well as leaders who are building on-ramps to the information highway.

$ Africa Consumer Council (ACC), South Africa: Director and staff met with Eldridge B.Z. Mathebula, Executive Director of the Africa Consumer Council, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. The ACC operates many consumer cooperatives in South Africa to serve its 70,000 members, generating capital and creating jobs and services for its members.

$ Y2K (Year 2000): OCA serves on the Department=s Y2K task force and its electronic distribution working group. In this capacity, OCA is developing a consumer bulletin concerning Y2K and the four industry sectors (information technology, insurance, international trade, and science and technology) for which the Department has the lead.

$ Conversations with America: Staff represented OCA at a meeting held to discuss the National Performance Review=s AConversations with America@ program and the Department=s efforts to include two-way conversations with Americans on its web site. OCA will report on its conversations with consumers quarterly.

$ Constituent Contacts: During August 1998, OCA responded to 162 requests from constituents. The top three areas of complaint concerned automobiles, banking and credit, and computers.




$ The President=s Trip to China: President Clinton=s visit to China represented the second time in less than a year that presidents from the United States and China have met under the auspices of a summit on a broad range of issues. A series of articles discussing the President=s trip and a list of achievements and agreements that will lead to opening business opportunities appear in the July 1998 issue of Business America, the ITA magazine of international trade.

$ Trade Mission to Southeast Asia: Ambassador David L. Aaron, Under Secretary for International Trade, will lead a High-Technology Trade Mission to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, September 7-19. This trade mission is designed to lend high-profile U.S. Government advocacy to American companies, particularly small- and medium-sized firms, seeking business opportunities in high-technology sectors in Southeast Asia, and to demonstrate U.S. support of countries in the region as they seek to recover from their financial difficulties. Relevant articles appear in the July issue of Business America.




$ Federal/State Study Finds 19 Percent of Milk Containers Short: In the first national study on the accuracy of milk net contents, conducted by four Federal agencies, 44 states, and two territories, 19 percent of 3,355 lots of milk inspected failed due to underfilling. The results of the study are significantly better than results of a similar, but smaller, study conducted in 1997 in which 45 percent of inspected lots failed.

The study was conducted by the staff of the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the NIST Office of Weights and Measures, in coordination with the Office of Food Labeling at the Food and Drug Administration. Inspections were conducted by weights and measures officials in 44 states as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands using an inspection procedure adopted by the National Conference on Weights and Measures. Inspections were conducted in retail stores, dairies, hospitals, universities, public schools, and other institutions.

More than 6 billion gallons of milk were sold in the United States last year, according to the USDA. According to the report, 83 percent of lots inspected at schools this year passed inspection. At hospitals, universities, and other institutions, 72 percent passed. Of the 1,309 inspections of milk in retail stores, wholesale packaging plants and dairies, 81 percent passed inspection this year.

Copies of the study, AMilk: Does It Measure Up?--One Year Later,@ and a AFacts for Business@ brochure are available on the World Wide Web at Printed copies can be requested from the FTC=s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, Washington, DC 20580; (202) 382-4357.

$ Study Takes First Step Toward Less Costly Fresh Air: Many home builders are moving toward more energy efficient designs, yet concerns about proper ventilation and indoor air quality are fueling an increase in the use of mechanical ventilation systems. Unfortunately, the price of better indoor air quality with these systems may be higher heating and cooling bills.

A recently completed NIST study found that a home where exhaust fans or other mechanical ventilation systems provide additional air flow may have too much ventilation at some times and too little at others. Overventilation during winter and summer months typically produces higher utility bills.

The study employed a NIST-developed computer program called CONTAM to evaluate the interplay of energy-efficient design, mechanical ventilation and power consumption. The two-story fictitious house used in the study in Spokane, Washington, an area that has cool winters and where builders are typically more progressive about energy efficient designs. One-year simulations evaluated four different ventilation approaches. Future simulations will evaluate other housing designs in various climates.

Ultimately, researchers hope to devise an indoor air quality rating scheme that can be used by manufacturers and designers to evaluate the impacts of different means of controlling indoor air quality. Information about the interplay of energy efficiency and optimum ventilation will help builders to evaluate the tradeoffs involved in building designs.

The Electric Power Research Institute sponsored the study under a cooperative research and development agreement. For more information, contact Andrew Persily, A313 Building Research Building, NIST, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-0001; (301) 975-6418;





(Unless otherwise indicated, call the NTIS Sales Desk at 1-800-553-NTIS to order these products.)


$ North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) (Hard Cover--PB98-127293NEN, $32.50 plus handling fee; Soft Cover--PB98-136187NEN, $28.50 plus handling fee; CD-ROM--PB98-502024NEN, $45 plus handling fee): There is a new industry classification system. Prepared by the Office of Management and Budget=s Economic Classification Policy Committee, NAICS replaces the U.S. Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) System. Developed jointly by the United States, Canada, and Mexico, NAICS is the first-ever North American industry classification system and is the most significant restructuring of the categorization of businesses in more than half a century. For the first time, government and business analysts will be able to compare directly industrial production statistics collected and published in the three North American Free Trade Agreement countries. NAICS also increases comparability with the International Standard Industrial Classification System, developed and maintained by the United Nations.

$ State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, 1997-98 (PB98-123307NEN, $22.50 plus handling): Published intermittently since 1979, the State and Metropolitan Area Data Book is a local area supplement to the Statistical Abstract of the United States. It is a convenient summary of statistics on the social, political, and economic organization of the states and metropolitan areas of the United States and is designed to serve as a statistical reference and guide to other statistical publications and sources.

$ AProhibited Parties Database@: NTIS launched its new AProhibited Parties Database@ at the BXA Update Conference, July 6-8. In cooperation with the Bureau of Export Administration (BXA), NTIS is pleased to provide this unique database as an added feature to the existing system, Export Administration Regulations (EAR) Database, at no additional cost. This new feature allows users to screen export orders prior to shipment against the four Federal Government lists of prohibited parties, using just a single keyword search. To subscribe to EAR, contact NTIS= Subscriptions Department at 1-800-363-2068.

$ Medical Management of Biological Casualties (AVA20273VNB6NEN, $155 plus handling fee): Are you ready for biological warfare/terrorist casualties? NTIS offers new videos that teach the proper response to attacks on civilians and the military. Routinely, in peace time, neither civilian nor military health care specialists would stress a medical defense against biological warfare or terrorist attack. But, the Gulf War made it clear that the threat of this type of weapon to both civilian and military personnel is real and its use more likely now than at any point in our history. It, therefore, becomes imperative that all medical care givers be prepared to treat casualties resulting from this kind of aggression. NTIS offers this comprehensive program for such training, which is a must not only for all military physicians, nurses, and medics, but also for emergency medical services and emergency room staffs. This audiovisual product contains six VHS color videos with a combined playing time of just under 10 hours. The package also includes the necessary handbooks, fact sheets, tests, and answer sheets to facilitate instruction.


(Call the NTIS Sales Desk at (1-800-553-NTIS to order this free material.)

PR-988--ABCs of Ordering from NTIS

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