Where Americans Have Increased Spending

Since the recession started in the fourth quarter of 2007, the common theme has been about Americans cutting back on their spending. But the latest numbers from the BEA show aggregate personal consumption expenditures are up 2.9%, or $285 billion. So we must be spending more on something!

So here is a table of winners: Some goods and services which have shown an increase in spending since 2007IV.

Right there up at the top is America’s love affair with mobile devices, where spending has soared almost 17% since the recession started. Also supporting my thesis of a communications boom–spending on wired, wireless, and cable services have risen by 5%.

In addition, Americans still care about their pets, their children, their hair, and their guns.

Of course, the data also shows a big gain in spending on education, healthcare, and housing, but it’s impossible to know how much of that increase is actually coming out of the pockets of households. Education spending includes government tuition aid and spending by private nonprofits out of their endowments and contributions; healthcare spending including Medicare, Medicaid, and employer-paid insurance; and housing includes a huge imputation for owner-occupied housing, which may or may not correspond to an actual increase or decrease in out-of-pocket spending.

Once we take those three huge categories out of the data, the remaining PCE has actually gone down by 0.6% since the recession started. So now let’s look at a table of losers: Selected categories of spending that have gone down.

Americans are spending a little bit less on clothing and hotels; a lot less on foreign travel, video and audio equipment (think televisions), and furniture. The big drop, though, has come in motor vehicles and associated goods and services, like gasoline.

About Michael Mandel 127 Articles

Michael Mandel was BusinessWeek's chief economist from 1989-2009, where he helped direct the magazine's coverage of the domestic and global economies.

Since joining BusinessWeek in 1989, he has received multiple awards for his work, including being honored as one of the 100 top U.S. business journalists of the 20th century for his coverage of the New Economy. In 2006 Mandel was named "Best Economic Journalist" by the World Leadership Forum.

Mandel is the author of several books, including Rational Exuberance, The Coming Internet Depression, and The High Risk Society.

Mandel holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.

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