Economic Facts and Figures
Margaret Lewis
College of St. Benedict



The Census Bureau’s web site can serve as the entry into many economic facts and figures and can be used to paint a picture of the U.S. economy. Using the Census Bureau’s web site only, answer the following questions to describe the U.S. economy.

1. The term “the economy” is often used by the media, policymakers, and citizens. But what exactly do economists mean by “the economy”?
a. To find the definition, go to the 2001 Statistical Abstract and open Section 13.
b. How does the federal government officially measure “the” economy and what has been its value for the following years: 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000?
c. How has the composition of the economy changed over time; that is, what are the components of “the economy” and how have they changed? What component is the driving force of the economy?

2. Trade with other countries is an increasingly important component in the U.S. economy, and one of the concerns often mentioned is the international trade deficit (in goods and services). Link
a. Find a graphical representation of this deficit over the last two years (2000-2002), and explain how this deficit has changed.
b. Who are the top 10 trading partners with the United States? (Remember that the U.S. both exports and imports goods and services.)
c. What are the top 15 countries to whom the state of Minnesota exports goods and services?

3. “The” government is a key economic player, serving a number of roles in the economy.
a. In 2000, how many full-time civilian workers were employed by the federal government, and what were the top 5 areas by governmental function? How did state payrolls compare to the federal results? What about local payrolls? What do these findings suggest about the economic activities engaged in by the federal, state, and local governments?
b. Governments provide a number of programs to U.S. citizens and residents. Go to the Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR) and discuss how FY 2001 federal expenditures were distributed among retirement/disability payments for individuals (DR), other direct payments for individuals (DO), direct payments other than for individuals (DX), grants (block, formula, project, and cooperative agreements) (GG), procurement contracts (PC), and salaries and wages (SW). Next, identify the top 10 recipients of federal grants using dollars received.
c. A government’s expenditures are largely funded by tax revenues. Using the estimated receipts for 2001, determine what percentage of those receipts came from individual income taxes, corporate income taxes, social insurance and retirement receipts, and excise taxes.

4. Economists typically cite three major macroeconomic goals: economic growth, full employment, and price stability. Using the following benchmarks, assess whether the U.S. met these goals during the 1990s.
a. Economic growth, measured by increase in real GDP
b. Full employment, measured by an unemployment rate of 5% or less
c. Price stability, measured by a change in Consumer Price Index of 2% or less

5. How do consumer expenditures vary across family types and race-ethnic groups?

6. How did home ownership change between 1950 and 1990, for the entire population and by type of household, age, and race-ethnicity?

7. For the 18-to-24 age group of dependent family members, what percentages of males and of females are currently enrolled full-time in college? How do these percentages vary by race and by family income?

8. Computers have become part of many people’s lives. How has home computer ownership and Internet usage changed since 1984? In 2000, who is most likely to have access to both? Least likely? What are the implications for these individuals’ economic futures and for the economy as a whole?

9. Have U.S. manufacturing industries become more or less concentrated (as measured using concentration ratios) between 1992 and 1997?

10. Income inequality is another important macroeconomic focus, and it is often evaluated by looking at the share of household aggregate income received by the lowest and highest fifths (quintiles) of the U.S. population. Assess how income inequality has changed between 1967 and 2000.

11. Poverty is another macroeconomic variable of concern, and policymakers have been particularly concerned about the number of children living in poverty. Explain how the number and percent of children living in poverty has changed since 1959. How do the overall trends compare to those children in female-headed households?

12. What factors are included in the leading economic indicator? How do economists use each factor to predict an upturn in the economy? What do the results for indicate about the current health of the U.S. economy?

Some Answers/Links

1. http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/01statab/income.pdf; this assignment uses the Statistical Abstract and could be used to identify connections between statistical measures and the various roles economic actors have in the economy.

2. Main link: http://www.census.gov/indicator/www/ustrade.html

3. Main page: http://www.census.gov/govs/www/index.html; part b: http://www.census.gov/govs/www/cffr.html

4. Sections 12 (http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/01statab/labor.pdf ), 13 (http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/01statab/income.pdf ), and 14 (http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/01statab/prices.pdf) of the Statistical Abstract have the stats to calculate these values.

5. http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/01statab/income.pdf; this assignment uses the Statistical Abstract; for more in-depth analysis, students could go to BLS for more detailed data. For advanced classes, students could be sent to the CES home page:

6. http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/census/historic/orgraph.html and http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/homeown/ownfig5.html; this information is available graphically.

7. Again the Statistical Abstract: http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/01statab/educ.pdf.

8. Again the Statistical Abstract: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/computer.html

9. http://www.census.gov/epcd/www/concentration.html; the data collection assignment here would need to be focused on specific industries.

10. http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/PressBri.pdf; this information is available in PowerPoint, which students could present and analysis

11. http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/PressBri.pdf; this information is available in PowerPoint, which students could present and analysis.

12. http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/briefroom/BriefRm; this assignment could be done with either the graphs or the words, with the students checking