What Do You Get for Your $1,818,600,000,000?


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capitalWhat does the U. S. Federal government do with the money it collects and what is the source of that revenue? Many people have opinions on what the government should spend its money on, and this activity provides some of the data used by economists to formulate an informed opinion. Gathering actual U.S. Government figures and organizing that information simulates how economists collect and interpret data.


Your task is to find, select, organize, and present data related to federal government income and expenditures. You will look through the tables on the National Income and Product Accounts website and find data that is relevant to federal government functions. Using your knowledge of economics and national income accounting to decide what data is relevant to include, how that data can be organized graphically, and consider what opinions could be supported using the data you've gathered and shown in a graph.


Go to this national income accounting presentation to learn more about national income accounting.

What makes some opinions more authoritative than others? Expert opinions are those that are supported by facts andoffice evidence and therefore carry more weight than opinions formed without a factual basis. Economists don't always agree with each other, but they always use factual data to support their opinions. This activity will simulate a data driven opinion formation process.

  1. View the national income and product accounts tables . Look specifically at government receipts and expenditures. You can select time periods (quarterly or annually) and ranges for years to view. Download this table using the directions at the bottom of the page, and then open it as a spreadsheet file (For example, using Miscrosoft Excel).

  2. To open the tables in Microsoft Excel
    • Open Excel and go to File -> Open
    • If you do not see the table in the folder you placed it in, change Files of Type to All Files (*,*), and your tables should appear.
    • A window should appear asking how you want the information organized.
      • In the first box change Fixed Width to Delimited and press next.
      • In the Delimiters box check commas and press next.
      • Press finished.
  3. Use the Excel 'Chart Wizard' to create and format a chart that makes a visual representation of your data. For example, a pie chart could illustrate the percent of government expenditure on various objectives or percent of tax receipts from different sources. A line graph could illustrate changes in government spending over time.


white houseCall-in programs on talk radio and newspaper opinion pages are filled with people expressing their opinions. Economists use actual data such as the NIPA Tables to form their own opinions. In most cases they need to reorganize data in order to present their evidence to others in a clear and concise format. This activity simulates how an economist develops and presents an expert opinion.



Print the chart you have created and offer an explanation of what the chart illustrates. This can be done either in written form or orally.

Criteria for assessment:

  1. Chart is neat and legible.
  2. A reason(s) is given for why data was included on the chart.
  3. A reason(s) is given for the years selected for inclusion on the chart.
  4. Students express how the data chosen could be used to support an opinion.