The BLS has reported average U.S. expenditure rates (per consumer unit*) for 2012.
From the report, as compared to 2011:
• Average before-tax incomes went up 3.0 percent to $65,596
• Average annual expenditures went up 3.5 percent to $51,442
• Total food costs went up 2.2 percent to $6,599
• Transportation expenditures went up 8.5 percent to $8,998
In the pie graph below, I have taken the BLS data on food and transportation expenditures from the report and divided them by the average annual total expenditures (for the average consumer spending unit*) to come up with 12.8 percent spent for food, 17.5 percent spent for transportation, and 30.3 percent spent for the two categories combined.
The changes in per consumer unit* expenditures over two years reveal that the food category expenditure went up 5.4 percent in 2011, followed by 2.2 percent in 2012, whereas the transportation expenditures went up 8.0 percent in 2011, followed by 8.5 percent in 2012.
This year, the BLS also reported expenditure averages according to race. For example, Hispanics are spending 15.5 percent on food, and 19.7 percent of their total expenditures on transportation, according to the BLS.
It’s worth noting that the USDA also reports these statistics, and with a different set of numbers. The USDA reports that Americans spent 15.0 percent on food and 20.5 percent on transportation in 2012. Each year, the USDA’s expenditure numbers vary from this annual BLS expenditure report, and the reason why is unknown to me, but I’d venture to guess that they are using a lower income scale subset of data. The USDA also states that the food share of consumer expenditures is down from 17 percent in 1984, as consumers “spend a greater share of income on housing, health care, and entertainment.”
Another unanswered question for me, is how food benefit programs such a food stamps and free school breakfast and lunch programs enter into the consumer food expenditure data. I’d expect that these programs lower the BLS’s food expenditure percentage numbers from what they would otherwise be, since that portion of food cost is not an expenditure for the respective consumer spending unit, something important to consider when glancing at the data.
* A consumer unit, as defined by the BLS, averages 2.5 persons, 1.3 earners, with 1.9 vehicles, 64 percent of which are homeowners.