The Office of Management and Budget released President Trump\’s  proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 a few weeks ago. I confess that when the budget comes out I don\’t pay much attention to the spending numbers for this year or the five-year projections. Those numbers are often build on sand and political wishfulness, and there\’s plenty of time to dig into them later, if necessary. Instead, I head for the \”Analytical Perspectives\” and \”Historical Tables\” volumes that always accompany the budget. For example, Chapter 5 of the \”Analytical Perspectives\” is about \”Social Indicators\”: 

The social indicators presented in this chapter illustrate in broad terms how the Nation is faring in selected areas. Indicators are drawn from six domains: economic, demographic and civic, socioeconomic, health, security and safety, and environment and energy. … These indicators are only a subset of the vast array of available data on conditions in the United States. In choosing indicators for these tables, priority was given to measures that are broadly relevant to Americans and consistently available over an extended period. Such indicators provide a current snapshot while also making it easier to draw comparisons and establish 

This section includes a long table stretching over parts of three pages shows many statistics for ten-year intervals since 1960, and also the last few years. For me, tables like this offer a grounding in basic facts and patterns. Here, I\’ll offer some 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 more than tripled since 1960, rising from $18,036 in 1960 to $55,373 in 2017 (as measured in constant 2012 dollars).
  • Inflation has reduced the buying power of the dollar over time such that $1 in 2016 had about the same buying power as 12.3 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, then dropped to 58.5% in 2012, before rebounding a bit to 62.9% in 2018.
  • The share of the population receiving Social Security disabled worker benefits was 0.9% in 1960 and 5.5% in 2018. 
  • The net national savings rate was 10.9% of GDP in 1960, 7.1% in 1980, and 6.0% in 2000. It actually was slightly negative at -0.5 in 2010, but was back to 2.9% in 2017.
  • Research and development spending has barely budged over time: it was 2.52% of GDP in 1960 and 2.78% of GDP in 2017, and hasn\’t varied much in between.
  • The foreign-born population of the US was 9.6 million out of a total of 204 million in 1970, and was 44.5 million out of at total of 325.7 million in 2017.
  • In 1960, 78% of the over-15 population had ever been married; in 2018, it was 67.7%.
  • Average family size was 3.7 people in 1960, and 3.1 people in 2018.
  • Single parent households were 4.4% of households in 1960, and 9.1% of all households in 2010, but slightly down to 8.3% of all households in 2018.
  • The share of 25-34 year-olds who are high school graduates was 58.1% in 1960, 84.2% in 1980, and 90.9% in 2018.
  • The share of 25-34 year-olds who are college graduates was 11% in 1960, 27.5% in 2000, and 35.6% in 2017.
  • 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.
  • Life expectancy at birth was 69.7 years in 1960, and 78.7 years in 2010, and 78.6 years in 2017.
  • Infant mortality was 26 per 1,000 births in 1960, and 5.8 per 1,000 births in 2017.
  • In 1960, 13.4% of the population age 20-74 was obese (as measured by having a Body Mass Index above 30). In 2016, 40% of the population was obese.
  • In 1970, 37.1% of those age 18 and older were cigarette smokers. By 2017, this has fallen  to 14.1%.
  • Total national health expenditures were 5.0% of GDP in 1960, and 17.9% of GDP in 2017.
Security and Safety
  • The murder rate was 5.1 per 100,000 people in 1960, rose to 10.2 per 100,000 by 1980, but had fallen back to 4.9 per 100,000 in 2015, before nudging up to 5.3 per 100,000 in 2017..
  • The prison incarceration rate in federal and state institutions was 118 per 100,000 in 1960, 144 per 100,000 in 1980, 519 per 100,000 by 2010, and then down to 464 per 100,000 in 2016.
  • Highway fatalities rose from 37,000 in 1960 to 51,000 in 1980, and then fell to 33,000 in 2010, before nudging up to 37,000 in 2017.

  • Energy consumption per capita was 250 million BTUs in 1960, rose to 350 million BTUs per person in 2000, but since then has fallen to 300 BTUs per person in 2017.
  • Energy consumption per dollar of real GDP (measured in constant 2009 dollars) was 14,500 BTUs in 1960 vs. 5,700 in 2017.
  • Electricity net generation on a per person basis was 4.202 kWh in 1960, had more than tripled to 13,475 kWh by 2000, but since then has declined to 12,326 kWh in 2017. 
  • The share of electricity generation from renewable sources was 19.7% of the total in 1960, fell to 8.8% by 2005, and since then rose to 17.1% of the total in 2017.
Numbers and comparisons like these are a substantial part of how a head-in-the-clouds academic like me perceives economic and social reality. If you like this kind of stuff, you would probably also enjoy my post from a few years back, \”The Life of US Workers 100 Years Ago\” (February, 5, 2016).

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