Mark Dolliver’s Takes: Mixed Blessings

Even while disparaging big companies, Americans expect them to function as social-service institutions and not just as providers of useful goods and services. But what sort of do-gooding do consumers most want to see from corporations? A survey by Ipsos Public Affairs provided respondents with a list and asked them to identify the causes companies should “contribute to or support the most.” The leading vote-getter (at 45 percent) was “protecting the environment and wildlife,” putting it ahead of “fighting poverty in the U.S.” (42 percent), “education and schools for children and teens” (33 percent), “health and well-being promotion programs” (25 percent) and “help for the elderly” (23 percent). Fewer cited “human rights” or “help for people with disabilities” (17 percent apiece), and fewer still picked “charities for specific health conditions or diseases” (14 percent). At the very bottom of the standings were “arts and culture” and “help for women” (each chosen by 5 percent of respondents).

We may not be very imaginative in other respects, but we’re good at imagining ourselves in dire straits. In a new MSN-Zogby survey, 61 percent of adults said they could imagine themselves becoming poor. Even among those with household income of $100,000 and up, 53 percent said they could picture this fate befalling them. How would people economize if poverty struck? The chart below gives some indication. Apparently, Americans don’t regard all those cable-TV channels as indispensable—at least, not when compared to cars and cell phones. Among pet owners, 17 percent said they’d jettison Fido if they fell into poverty. Let’s face facts, though: If you became poor, your pet might not want to stick with you.

Enjoying spring so far? You probably are if you’re among the 29 percent of Americans who regard spring as their favorite season. In a Rasmussen Reports survey, summer got the most votes as favorite season (31 percent) and winter the least (7 percent), while fall fell slightly behind the leaders (25 percent).

Though typically depicted as a white-collar affliction, time starvation vexes people in all walks of life, finds Yankelovich polling discussed in one of the firm’s Monitor Minute bulletins. Among people in the professional/managerial ranks, 51 percent were identified as “frequently experiencing a time shortage”—nearly matching the 49 percent of people in “all other occupations” for whom this was true. Professionals/managers were a bit more likely than other workers to “feel the shortage of time in their lives is unpleasant” (30 percent vs. 25 percent). There’s a bigger difference in the way the two cohorts respond to the wear and tear of a too-busy schedule. If they had an extra hour in their day, just 5 percent of professionals/managers would spend it sleeping, vs. 15 percent of the non-managerial types. Conversely, professional/ managerial people were twice as likely as the other ranks to say they would spend the extra hour exercising or being physically active (18 percent vs. 9 percent). More broadly, the survey’s non-managers were more inclined than the upper ranks to say leisure time “provides a chance to rest or relax and do nothing in particular” (46 percent vs. 36 percent) and less likely to say it “gives me time for activities that I really enjoy and look forward to doing” (54 percent vs. 64 percent).

We seldom get through a year without some newspaper story brandishing a particle of Census data to declare that the traditional married-parents-plus-children household has nearly disappeared. A new bulletin from the Census Bureau serves as a corrective to such talk. For one thing, the percentage of total U.S. households headed by single parents “showed little variation from 1994 through 2006, at about 9 percent, up from 5 percent in 1970.” Moreover, 67 percent of children under age 18 were living with two married parents as of last year. Nor has the stay-at-home mother become extinct: There were 5.6 million of them around last year.

A cheery ad about colon cancer? With its headline type mimicking the path of one’s innards, an ad for the American Cancer Society (at upper right) is well-calculated to quell people’s squeamishness about getting a colon-cancer screening. “The doctor takes a look at your colon and if there’s a polyp it’s removed before it turns into cancer,” says the circuitous headline. A typographical bullet performs ably in the role of the polyp—very likely a first in advertising design. Atlanta-based agency TG Madison created the ad.

Some old media fare better than others in the new-media era. In a Greenfield Online poll (fielded online among a representative sample of adults), 71 percent of respondents said they listened to terrestrial radio during the previous week. Fifteen percent said they listened to satellite radio during that period. By comparison, 65 percent said they read a newspaper and 52 percent read a magazine.

It’s a sign of people’s growing comfort with Internet security that 39 percent plan to file their federal taxes online this year, up from 28 percent three years ago. The figures come from a Conference Board report that also found 43 percent of wired adults “extremely concerned” about the security of online tax filing, down from 52 percent in 2004.

No holiday is complete, it seems, without its own shopping opportunities. That includes Easter, with a report from the National Retail Federation anticipating the holiday will generate $14.4 billion in consumer spending this year. Among people who expect to mark the occasion by buying something, outlays will average $135 per capita, up 11 percent from last year’s $122. Consumers in the 25-34 age bracket are forecast to be the holiday’s biggest spenders, at $147 per capita. Easter expenditures are expected to include an average of $26 on apparel, $20 on gifts, $19 on candy, $10 on flowers and $8 on decorations, with the Easter meal accounting for most of the remainder of their outlays.