When the president\’s proposed budget is released each year, I confess that I tend to ignore the actual and projected spending numbers, and instead head right for the \”Analytical Perspectives\” and \”Historical Tables\” that volume that always accompany the budget. The president\’s proposed budget is a wish list, which will eventually be compared with the budget proposals from the House of Representatives and from the U.S. Senate–although the Senate has failed to pass an actual budget in the last few years. While that process hashes itself out, the analysis and history are more immediately interesting to me.
For example, Chapter 6 of the \”Analytical Perpectives\” is about \”Social Indicators: \”The social indicators presented in this chapter illustrate in broad terms how the Nation is faring in selected
areas in which the Federal Government has significant responsibilities. Indicators are drawn from six selected domains: economic, demographic and civic, socioeconomic, health, security and safety, and environment and energy.\” A long table stretching over parts of three pages shows many statistics for ten-year intervals since 1960, and for the last few years. For me, tables like this offer a grounding in basic facts and patterns. Here, I\’ll just offer 21 comparisons drawn from the table over the last half-century or so, from 1960 or 1970 up to the most recent data.
- Real GDP per person has roughly tripled in the last half-century, rising from $15,648 in 1960 to 43,352 in 2012 (as measured in constant 2005 dollars).
- Inflation has reduced the buying power of the dollar over time such that $1 in 2011 had about the same buying power as 15 cents back in 1960, according to the Consumer Price Index.
- The employment/population ratio rose from 56.1% in 1960 to 64.4% by 2000, but since then has sagged back to 58.6% in 2012–roughly the same level as the late 1970s.
- The share of the population receiving Social Security disabled worker benefits was 0.9% in 1960 and is now 5.8%.
- The real stock of fixed assets and consumer durable goods has more than quadrupled in the last half-century, rising from $11.5 trillion in 1960 to $51.1 trillion in 2011 (as measured in real 2010 dollars).
- The net national savings rate was 10.3% of GDP in 1960, 8.1% in 1970, 6.2% in 2000–compared with negative 0.7% in 2010 and negative 0.6% in 2011.
- Research and development spending has barely budged over time: it was 2.6% of GDP in 1960 and 2.7% of GDP in 2011, and hasn\’t varied much in between.
- In 1960, 78% of the over-15 population had ever been married; in 2012, it was 68.8%
- Average family size was 3.7 people in 1960, and 3.1 people in 2012.
- Single parent households were 4.4% of households in 1960, and 9.3% of all households in 2012.
- In 1960, 11% of those in the 25-34 age bracket were college graduates; in 2011, the corresponding number was 31.5%.
- The average math achievement score for a 17 year-old on the National Assessment of Educational Progress was 304 in 1970, and 306 in 2010. The average reading achievement score for a 17 year-old was 285 in 1970 and 286 in 2010.
- Real disposable per capita income has roughly tripled in the last half-century, rising from $12,457 in 1960 to $37,646 in 2012 (measured in constant 2011 dollars).
- Life expectancy at birth was 69.7 years in 1960, and 78.7 years in 2011.
- Infant mortality was 26 per 1,000 births in 1960, and 6.1 per 1,000 births in 2011.
- In 1960, 13.3% of the population age 20-74 was obese (as measured by having a Body Mass Index above 30). In 2010, 35.3% of the population was obese.
- In 1970, 39.2% of those age 18 and older were cigarette smokers. By 2011, this has fallen by half to 19%.
- Total national health expenditures were 5.2% of GDP in 1960, and 17.9% of GDP in 2012.
- Energy consumption per capita was 250 million BTUs in 1960, and 312 million BTUs in 2011.
- Energy consumption per dollar of real GDP (measured in constant 2005 dollars) was 15,900 in 1960 vs. 7,300 in 2011.
- Electricity net generation from renewable sources was 19.7% of the total in 1960, and 12.7% of the total in 2011.
I read these sorts of figures as evidence of substantial and genuine progress in the standard of living–broadly understood–for Americans. But of course, it\’s also easy to see some dangers and warning signs.