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Explore the connection between the economic indicators and real-world issues. These lessons typically can be done in one class period.

KEY CONCEPTS

Consumers, Economic Growth, Exports, Government Expenditures, Investment, Nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Current Key Economic Indicators

as of May 5, 2013

Inflation

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers decreased 0.2 percent in March after increasing 0.7 percent in February. The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent in March after rising 0.2 percent in February.

Employment and Unemployment

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 165,000 in April, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 7.5 percent. Employment increased in professional and business services, food services and drinking places, retail trade, and health care.

Real GDP

Real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2013 (that is, from the fourth quarter to the first quarter), according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 0.4 percent.

Federal Reserve

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee expects that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. In particular, the Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that this exceptionally low range for the federal funds rate will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent...


Goals of Case Study

The goals of the GDP case studies are to provide teachers and students:

  • access to easily understood, timely interpretations of monthly announcements of rates of change in real GDP and the accompanying related data in the U.S. economy;
  • descriptions of major issues surrounding the data announcements;
  • brief analyses of historical perspectives;
  • questions and activities to use to reinforce and develop understanding of relevant concepts; and
  • a list of publications and resources that may benefit classroom teachers and students interested in exploring inflation.

Attention Teachers

Material that appears in italics is included in the teacher version only. All other material appears in the student version. Throughout the semester, the GDP cases will become progressively more comprehensive and advanced.

You may wish to use the following larger versions of the graphs and tables from this lesson for overhead projection or handouts in class:

Announcement

Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the fourth quarter (October, November, and December) of 2005 increased at an annual rate of 1.1 percent. This is the first estimate of the rate of change in the fourth quarter.

This is also the first estimate of the growth in real gross domestic product for the entire year of 2005. Real GDP for the entire year increased at a rate of 3.5 percent.

This quarter's increase compares to annual rates of 3.3 and 4.1 percent in each of the first two previous quarters. For the entire 2005 year, real GDP increased at a rate of 3.5 percent. During all of 2005, real GDP increased by 3.5 percent. Annual growth rates in 2002, 2003, and 2004 were 1.6, 2.7, and 4.2 percent.

Definition of Gross Domestic Product

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one measure of economic activity, the total amount of goods and services produced in the United States in a year. It is calculated by adding together the market values of all of the final goods and services produced in a year.

  • It is a gross measurement because it includes the total amount of goods and services produced, some of which are simply replacing goods that have depreciated or have worn out.
  • It is domestic production because it includes only goods and services produced within the U.S.
  • It measures current production because it includes only what was produced during the year.
  • It is a measurement of the final goods produced because it does not include the value of a good when sold by a producer, again when sold by the distributor, and once more when sold by the retailer to the final customer. We count only the final sale.

Changes in GDP from one year to the next reflect changes in the output of goods and services and changes in their prices. To provide a better understanding of what actually is occurring in the economy, real GDP is also calculated. In fact, these changes are more meaningful, as the changes in real GDP show what has actually happened to the quantities of goods and services, independent of changes in prices.

There are often a number of different measures of GDP reported. Nominal GDP, or simply GDP, is total output in current prices. Real GDP is total output with prices held constant. Real GDP per capita is the real GDP per person in the economy and is the best measure of well-being of all the other measures.

One approximate means of calculating real GDP per capita is to identify the increase in nominal GDP and then subtract the percentage increase in prices and the percentage increase in population. That would leave the percentage increase in real GDP per capita.

Why are Changes in Real Gross Domestic Product Important?

The measurement of the production of goods and services produced each year permits us to evaluate our monetary and fiscal policies, our investment and saving patterns, the quality of our technological advances, and our material well-being. Changes in real GDP per capita provide our best measures of changes in our material standards of living.

While rates of inflation and unemployment and changes in our income distribution provide us additional measures of the successes and weaknesses of our economy, none is a more important indicator of our economy's health than rates of change in real GDP.

Changes in real GDP are discussed in the press and on the nightly news after every monthly announcement of the latest quarter's data or revision. This current increase in real GDP will be discussed in news reports as a positive sign of the strength of the current economy.

Real GDP trends are prominently included in discussions of potential slowdowns and economic booms. They are featured in many discussions of trends in stock prices. Economic commentators use decreases in real GDP as indicators of recessions. The most popular (although inaccurate) definition of a recession is at least two consecutive quarters of declining real GDP.

Data Trends

During 2000 and 2001, the rate of growth of real gross domestic product slowed significantly. A recession was declared for March 2001 to November 2001. Growth increased in 2002, 2003, and 2004, reaching 4.2 percent in 2004. The most recent quarter's growth rate is relatively small. All of the quarterly growth rates in the previous 10 quarters were above 3 percent annual rates. We would have to go back to the fourth quarter of 2002 to find slower growth than in this quarter.

Graph 1

Long-run Trends

The rate of increase in real GDP was not only higher in the last part of the 1990s than in the first half of the 1990s, but also when compared with much of the 1970s and 1980s. Economic growth, as measured by average annual changes in real GDP, was 4.4 percent in the 1960s. Average rates of growth decreased during the 1970s (3.3%), the 1980s (3.0%), and the first half of the 1990s (2.2%). In the last five years of the 1990s, the rate of growth in real GDP increased to 3.8 percent, with the last three years of the 1990s being at or over 4.1 percent per year.

Graph 2


The upward trend in economic growth over the past decade has been accompanied by increases in the rates of growth of consumption spending, investment spending, and exports. Productivity increases, expansions in the labor force, decreases in unemployment, and increases in the amount of capital have allowed real GDP to grow at the faster rates. Figure 2 shows the history of growth since the 1970s. Figure 2 also shows the average annual rate of growth of 3.1 percent since 1970.

Prices

The price index for GDP increased at an annual rate of 3.0 percent during the fourth quarter of 2005, compared to an increase of 3,3 percent during the third quarter of 2005. It increased at an annual rate of 2.8 percent for all of 2005. See the latest inflation case study for a discussion of the recent increases in price levels.

Details of the Third-Quarter Changes in Real GDP

Real GDP increased at an annual rate of 1.1 percent, a slowdown in growth. The major contributors to the decrease in the growth rate of real GDP in the fourth quarter were a significant slowing in the growth of in personal consumption and a fall in government spending, with a decrease in national defense spending. Those factors slowing growth were partially offset by an increase in investment.

A Hint about News Reports

Many news reports simply use "gross domestic product" as a term to describe this announcement. The actual announcement focuses on the REAL gross domestic product, and that is the meaningful part of the report. In addition, newspapers will often refer to the rate of growth during the most recent quarter and will not always refer to the fact that it is reported at annual rates of change. This is contrasted to the reports of the consumer price index, which are reported at actual percentage changes in the index for a single month, and not at annual rates.

Explanations of GDP and its Components

Gross domestic product consists of goods and services produced for consumption, for investment, for government, and for export. The GDP accounts are broken down into consumption spending, investment spending, government spending, and spending on U.S. exports. To arrive at the amount actually produced (that is, GDP) our spending on imports is subtracted from those other amounts of spending. Thus,

GDP = Consumption spending + investment spending + government spending + export spending – import spending

There is a slide that shows this equation.

Consumption spending consists of consumer spending on goods and services. It is often divided into spending on durable goods, non-durable goods, and services. These purchases currently account for 70 percent of GDP.

  • Durable goods are items such as cars, furniture, and appliances, which are used for several years.
  • Non-durable goods are items such as food, clothing, and disposable products, which are used for only a short time period.
  • Services include rent paid on apartments (or estimated values for owner-occupied housing), airplane tickets, legal and medical advice or treatment, electricity and other utilities. Services are the fastest growing part of consumption spending.

Investment spending consists of non-residential fixed investment, residential investment, and inventory changes. Investment spending accounts for 16 percent of GDP, but varies significantly from year to year.

  • Non-residential fixed investment is the creation of tools and equipment to use in the production of other goods and services. Examples are the building of factories, the production of new machines, and the manufacturing of computers for business use.
  • Residential investment is the building of a new homes or apartments.
  • Inventory changes consist of changes in the level of stocks of goods necessary for production and finished goods ready to be sold.

Government spending consists of federal, state, and local government spending on goods and services such as research, roads, defense, schools, and police and fire departments. This spending (19 percent) does not include transfer payments such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, and welfare payments, which do not represent production of goods and services. Federal defense spending now accounts for approximately 5 percent of GDP. State and local spending on goods and services accounts for 12 percent of GDP, while federal spending is 7 percent of GDP.

Exports are goods and services produced in the U.S. and purchased by foreigners – currently about 10 percent of GDP.

Imports are items produced by foreigners and purchased by U.S. consumers are equal to 15 percent of GDP. Net exports (exports minus imports) are negative and are about 5 percent of the GDP.

Revisions in GDP Announcements

Real GDP for each quarter is announced three times. The month following the end of the quarter is described as the advance real GDP; the second announcement or revision is described as the preliminary announcement; and the third month is the final. While labeled as the final version, even it will eventually be revised after the final data for the year are published. From 1983 to 2002, the advance estimates of the rate of growth in real GDP have been revised an average of 0.5 percent in the next month's preliminary estimate. The preliminary estimates have been revised by an average of an additional 0.3 percent.

Revisions in inventory investment and the international trade data are often the causes of changes in the GDP figures. Those data for the last month of the quarter are not available when the advance estimate of GDP is announced.

Interactive questions

Use this table to help answer the questions in the following interactive activity. (Measured in billions of current dollars.)

Social security payments

$1,000

Income tax receipts

1,500

Exports

2,100

Wages

9,000

Consumption spending

8,000

Federal government spending on goods and services

750

Construction of new homes

400

State and local spending on goods and services

1,250

Changes in inventories

- 500

Imports

2,500

Business purchases of new factories and equipment

2,000