Explore the connection between the economic indicators and real-world issues. These lessons typically can be done in one class period.
Consumers, Economic Growth, Exports, Government Expenditures, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Imports, Investing, Nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Per Capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
Current Key Economic Indicatorsas of November 30, -0001
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.
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.
Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the third quarter (July, August, and September) of 2006 increased at an annual rate of 1.6 percent. This is the first and "advance" estimate of the rate of change in the third quarter.
This quarter's increase compares to annual rates of 5.6 and 2.6 percent in each of the two previous quarters of the year. For the entire 2005 year, real GDP increased at a rate of 3.2 percent. Annual growth rates in 2002, 2003, and 2004 were 1.6, 2.5, and 3.9 percent.
Quarterly growth at annual rates
Rates of change in GDP figures are reported for years and quarters. When the quarterly rates of increase are reported, they are reported as though the changes at occurred for an entire year. That means that real GDP did not actually increase 1.6 percent during the third quarter of 2006. It grew at a rate, that if that rate of growth had continued for an entire year, real GDP would have been 1.6 percent higher. (The actual growth rate during the quarter was approximately one-third of 1.6 percent or about .4 of one percent.) Reporting at annual rates makes it easier to compare the change over one quarter to the change over an entire year.
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.
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 3.9 percent in 2004.
The Federal Reserve responded to slowing growth and the 2001 recession by reducing the target federal funds rate. (See the Federal Reserve and Monetary Policy Cases.)
The effects of stimulative monetary policy and the resulting low interest rates helped increase consumer and investment spending during and since the recession. As the economy began to grow, the Federal Reserve reversed its policy to slow the growth to a sustainable level and has been increasing the target federal funds rate since.
The most recent quarter's growth rate is relatively small. All of the quarterly growth rates, except one, in the previous 13 quarters were above a 2.6 percent annual rate. Most were above 3 percent. We would have to go back to the first quarter of 2003 to find significantly slower growth than in this quarter.
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. Growth slowed in the beginning of the 2000s, but has rebounded and averaged almost 3.7 over 2004, 2005 and the first half of 2006.
The price index for GDP increased at an annual rate of 1.8 percent during the third quarter of 2006, compared to the rate of increase of 3.3 percent during the second quarter of 2006. It increased at an annual rate of 3.0 percent for all of 2005. These are somewhat higher rates of increase than experienced during 2003 and 2004 (2.1 and 2.8 percent). See the latest inflation case study for a discussion of the recent increases in price levels.
Details of the First-Quarter Changes in Real GDP
Real GDP increased at an annual rate of 1.7 percent, a slowdown in growth. The major contributors to the decrease in the growth rate of real GDP in the third quarter when compared to the second quarter were a significant increase in imports and a decrease in residential investment. Those factors slowing growth in real GDP were partially offset by an increase in growth in investment and in government spending.
GDP, Productivity, and Unemployment
A major factor in the long-term growth in the American economy is continued improvement in productivity. Productivity increased at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in 2005. (It did not change in the third quarter of 2006. Businesses are able to gain more output from the same number of workers. This explains how real GDP can increase at the same time employment is falling. If real GDP grows faster (3.2%) than the increase in productivity (2.3%), more workers are needed to produce the real GDP. If unemployment is to fall, spending and output in the economy will have to grow faster than the increase in productivity.
The Federal Reserve has stated in many of its recent releases that continued productivity growth is a key component in the continued growth in the American economy. Businesses are able to expand production more rapidly than the growth in employment and thus, the most important consequence, real GDP per capita can increase.
On November 2001, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced though its Business Cycle Dating Committee that it had determined that a peak in business activity occurred in March of 2001. That signaled the official beginning of a recession. In July 2003, the committee reported its determination of the end of the recession as of November 2001.
The NBER defines a recession as a "significant decline in activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, visible in industrial production, employment, real income, and wholesale-retail trade." The current data show a decline in employment, but not as large as in the previous recession. Real income growth slowed but did not decline. Manufacturing and trade sales and industrial production both declined and had been doing so for some time.
The previous recession began in July of 1990 and ended in March of 1991, a period of eight months. However, the beginning of the recession was not announced until April of 1991. The end of the recession was announced in December of 1992, almost 21 months later. One of the reasons the end of the recession was so difficult to determine was the economy did not grow rapidly even after it came out a period of falling output and income, very similar conditions to those of the current economy.
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 17 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 16 percent of GDP. Net exports (exports minus imports) are negative and are about 6 percent of the GDP.
GDP as a Measure of Well-Being
Changes in real GDP are a more accurate representation of meaningful economic growth than changes in nominal GDP, because changes in real GDP represent changes in quantities produced, while prices are held constant. Real GDP per capita is even more relevant because it measures goods and services produced per person and thus approximates the amount of goods and services each person can enjoy. If real GDP grows, but the population grows faster, then each person, on average, is actually worse off than the change in real GDP would indicate.
Consider the table below. While China, other than Hong Kong, has a GDP of $2.2 trillion, its GDP per capita is only $1,716. Hong Kong has a much smaller GDP of $178 billion. However, its GDP per capita is much higher at $25,757. Other nations, such as France and Germany, may have quite different GDPs, but GDPs per capita that are very close.
Per Capita GDP
|China (Hong Kong)||
GDP per capita is not a perfect estimate of well-being. When individuals grow their own food, build their own houses and sew their own clothes, they are not producing goods and services to be sold in a marketplace and therefore GDP does not change. As a result, many countries South America and Africa have a low GDP per capita that underestimates their well-being.
(The comparisons in the above table are of nominal GDP per capita, not real GDP per capita. As we are comparing per capita figures for the same year there is no need to deflate the nominal figures into real figures.)
Revisions in GDP Annoucements
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.
1. If productivity rise by less than real GDP, what is likely to have happened to employment?
[Employment must have increased. Because output increased by more than the output per worker, it must take more workers to produce the increased output.]
2. If real GDP increased by 4 percent and employment increased by 3 percent, what is likely to have happened to productivity?
[Productivity must have increased. If real GDP increases by more than the rate of increase in the number of workers, than output per worker must have increased.]
3. If gross domestic product increases by 10 percent over a year, are we better off? Why or why not?
[Perhaps we are better off. Part of the answer depends upon what is happening to prices and what is happening to population. If prices and population together are rising by more than 10 percent per year, than we, on average, are worse off. We have fewer goods and services per person.]
4. If consumers begin to purchase automobiles manufactured abroad instead of those manufactured in the U.S., what will happen to real GDP? Will the answer be different if consumers are simply increasing their spending and those purchases are of automobiles manufactured abroad?
[Consumption spending will remain the same; however, imports will increase. Real GDP in the U.S. will decrease. In the second instance, consumption spending increased, but imports increased by an equal amount. Real GDP does not change. The components do change.]