Category Archives: data visualization

Dividends by the Numbers During the Great Depression

Dividends by the Numbers is one of our most popular series. Each month, we discuss the U.S. stock market's metadata for the number of dividends that were declared, visualizing how many U.S. publicly-traded companies either increased or decreased their dividends, and report how many firms omitted paying dividends or resumed paying them and also the number of companies that announced they would pay an extra, or "special", dividend to their shareholding owners.

In doing that, we're following in the footsteps of legendary financial writer Bertie Forbes, who pioneered this kind of reporting in 1922. B.C. Forbes, a Scottish immigrant who founded the business and finance magazine that still bears his name today after becoming a U.S. citizen in 1917, was one of the earliest market observers to realize this data was telling an incredible story as the roaring twenties boom was getting underway. Within a year, he was incorporating the dividend metadata from several hundred stocks he regularly followed into his syndicated columns.

The 1920s was also when the Standard Statistics Company, the "Standard" in today's Standard and Poor, launched its market analytics business. The firm had its big breakthrough on 2 January 1929, when the Associated Press adopted its 90-stock composite index for its reporting on the U.S. stock market. The market capitalization weighted index is the direct precursor to the S&P 500, and the AP's decision played a large role in establishing the new index as widely reported market metric.

But that wasn't all the information that Standard Statistics compiled for the AP. They also compiled monthly dividend metadata as B.C. Forbes was doing, but for the entire U.S. stock market, which in that era consisted of more than 3,100 individual stocks.

1929 is a remarkable year because it also marks the beginning of the Great Depression and the stock market crashes that signaled it was getting underway. The U.S. stock market's dividend metadata soon proved to be a vital indicator, particularly the number of dividend reductions that were announced each month. In the worst years of the depression, the reports changed to be presented on a weekly basis because the number of cuts had become so large.

We've reconstructed the data series for the number of dividend increases and reductions being announced each month from that era's contemporary news reporting. If you want to know what an economic disaster really looks like, here's the picture:

Number of Public U.S. Firms Increasing (Blue) or Decreasing (Red) Their Dividends Each Month, January 1929 through January 1936

We selected this period to show the full cycle of dividend rises and reductions as started from their pre-Depression levels, to exploding in economic crisis, to once again resuming their pre-Depression levels.

We've also shown the period the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates the U.S. economy cycle went into and stayed in contraction after having peaked in August 1929. Note that the number of dividend cuts begins to rise above its pre-Depression levels some three-to-six months after the Depression started. After a year, there's a regular spike every three months as U.S. companies reported their earnings and as increasingly become the case, their dividend cuts. Those cuts kept getting worst until June 1932, when the number of dividend cuts peaked. That peak coincides with the market bottom for Standard Statistics' 90-stock composite index during the Great Depression.

Afterward, the number of dividend cuts reported each month began to fall as economic conditions improved. After the NBER-recession ended in March 1933, it took another three-to-six months for the number of dividend cuts to drop back to what we'll call "near pre-Depression levels". At the same time the number of dividend increases began to rise off the floor, also signaling the improvement taking place in the economy. But then it took another four years before dividend increases and decreases consistently tracked their pre-Depression levels.

After January 1936, reporting on dividend metadata became more sparse and eventually disappeared from regular news coverage. In the era since, it hasn't been a regular feature, even though its still reported each month by Standard Statistics successor firm, Standard and Poor. Only now, that metadata is included as part of a wider ranging report featuring much more market performance data, so it doesn't stand out the way it did when it was widely recognized as a vital market measure during the most critical period the U.S. economy has experienced.

At least, until several years ago, when we unknowingly followed in Bertie Forbes footsteps and brought it back to life as the main feature of a regular column. We only learned about Forbes' role in originating this kind of analysis because we went looking for historic metadata for dividends during the Great Depression and kept running into his syndicated columns as we reconstructed the data!

Comparisons of U.S. Median Household Income Estimates

The U.S. Census Bureau has released its annual estimate of the median income earned by the United States 131,202,000 households in 2021. At $70,784, the annual income earned by a typical American household increased by $2,774 (or 4.1%) from 2020 to 2021. Adjusted for President Biden's inflation however, real median household income fell by $402 year-over-year from 2020 in terms of constant 2021 U.S. dollars.

We've added the U.S. Census Bureau's annual data to our chart comparing the various available sources for U.S. median household income data that track this demographic characteristic on a monthly basis. The updated chart compares their nominal, noninflation-adjusted estimates over the period they overlap from January 2006 through July 2022.

Comparing U.S. Median Household Income Estimates, January 2006 - July 2022

In incorporating the U.S. Census Bureau's annual data in this chart, we've annotated the anomaly for 2019's median household estimate. Here, the Census Bureau's median household income estimate for 2019 was greatly impacted by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, coinciding with the period in which it surveyed U.S. households about the income they earned in 2019. Lockdown measures imposed by several state goverments, including the high population states of California and New York, blocked the Census Bureau from successfully collecting as much data as they intended, particularly from lower-income earning households. In a working paper, Census Bureau analysts confirm the coronavirus pandemic reduced the number of responses to the Annual Social and Economic Survey used to collect household income data, which they believe biased the median household income figure upward by 2.8%. Our chart shows both the Census Bureau's reported figure of $68,703 and indicates the adjusted figure of $66,779 for that year.

Comparing the Census Bureau's annual estimates with the monthly estimates, we find that all these estimates range within a few percent of each other from January 2006 through October 2018. After that point, there's a major divergence between the Atlanta Fed's estimates and the others, where we continue to note the following three differences:

  1. The Atlanta Fed's estimates understate the rising trend for median household income observed in 2019.
  2. They also completely miss the impact and recovery from the coronavirus recession in 2020.
  3. They significantly understate the robust growth in median household income we've observed since March 2021.

That difference, particularly with the U.S. Census Bureau's annual data, is growing much more substantial as time passes.

Political Calculations' estimates of median household income generally tracks with Sentier Research's estimates up through the period where they terminate in December 2019. The analysts who founded Sentier Research after retiring from the U.S. Census Bureau went on to permanently retire in 2020. Sentier Research is no longer an operating entity.

For the latest in our coverage of median household income in the United States, follow this link!

The Bureau of Economic Analysis will soon be releasing a major revision of its historic income data. Since Political Calculations uses this data in generating its monthly household income estimates, the chart above represents a snapshot of our estimates compared with other sources "before" the revised data becomes available.


Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Home Ownership Affordability Monitor (U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey One-Year Estimates of Median Household Income, Projected to Indicated Month by Atlanta Fed Staff using additional data produced by the Current Population Survey and Decennial Census). [Online Database]. Accessed 23 September 2022.

Sentier Research. Household Income Trends: January 2000 through December 2019.  [Excel Spreadsheet with Nominal Median Household Incomes for January 2000 through January 2013 courtesy of Doug Short]. [PDF Document]. Accessed 6 February 2020. [Note: We've converted all data to be in terms of current (nominal) U.S. dollars.] Note: Sentier Research is no longer an operating entity, we've linked to the Internet Archive's copy of this final report.

Political Calculations. Median Household Income in July 2022. [Online Article]. 1 September 2022.

U.S. Census Bureau. Historical Income Tables: Households. Table H-5. Race and Hispanic Origin of Householder -- Households by Median and Mean Income. [Excel Spreadsheet]. 13 September 2022.

Jonathan Rothbaum and Adam Bee. Coronavirus Infects Surveys, Too: Survey Nonresponse Bias and the Coronavirus Pandemic. U.S. Census Bureau Working Paper Number SEHSD WP2020-10. [PDF Document]. 30 March 2021.

Update 2 October 2022

The BEA's annual data revision for 2022 has been released. It's much smaller in scale and scope than it might have been, covering the period from January 2017 through July 2022. We created the following animation to show how the revision changed Political Calculation's median household income estimates over this period.

Animation: Comparing U.S. Median Household Income Estimates from January 2006 - July 2022, Before and After 2022 BEA Data Revision

The effect of the data revision can be divided into two periods. From January 2017 through February 2021, the size of revisions were very small, with data during 2020 seeing the largest changes in the form of upward revisions with a magnitude of +0.2%. Much larger changes are concentrated in the period from March 2021 through July 2022 however, which were revised downward by progressively increasing amounts. The smallest revision in this second period was for March 2021, which was unchanged, the largest revision was for July 2022, which was reduced by $1,000. We'll have more analysis when we present the median household estimate for August 2022 on 4 October 2022.

Consumer Spending Rose Record 9.1% in 2021

Consumer spending strongly rebounded in 2021 following the lifting of 2020's government-mandated pandemic lockdown measures.

That's the biggest takeaway from the data presented in the 2021 Consumer Expenditure Survey, which saw the average American household consumer unit's expenditures increase by $5,594 over 2020's level to reach $66,928. That's a 9.1% year-over-year increase, the largest ever on record for the available data series that extends back to 1984. The first chart featured shows that full history from 1984 through 2021:

Average Annual Total Expenditures per Household Consumer Unit, 1984-2021

The Consumer Expenditure Survey breaks down the average annual expenditures of U.S. household consumer units into major categories of spending. The next chart shows the amount of spending from 1984 through 2021 for housing; transportation; life insurance, pension savings and Social Security; health expenditures and medical expenses; entertainment; charitable contributions; apparel and other products; and finally education, to rank them from largest to smallest.

Major Categories of Average Annual Expenditures per U.S. Household Consumer Unit, 1984-2021

With the exception of education, nearly all major categories of spending rose in 2021. Of these, transportation, food (especially in the subcategory of Food Away from Home), and Entertainment had the biggests year over year gains, which is consistent with the lifting of state and local government lockdown measures in 2021.

The third chart presents the share of each of the major categories of household spending as a percentage of average annual total expenditures.

Percent Share of Major Categories of Average Annual Expenditures per U.S. Household Consumer Unit, 1984-2021

As a percentage of total expenditures, the categories of housing, life insurance (including pension savings and Social Security), health insurance (and medical expenses), charitable contributions, and eductation each fell during 2021, while other spending categories increased.

The final chart stacks all these major categories of household spending together to assemble the full picture of how the spending of American consumer unit households has changed each year from 1984 through 2021.

Major Categories of Consumer Spending as Share of Average Annual Total Expenditures, 1984-2021

This last chart is our long-running favorite, in part because the colors convey which major categories of spending have generally risen over time (the purple-shaded components) or fallen over time (the green-shaded components).

Although we haven't addressed it, the Consumer Expenditure Survey's expenditure data also captures the early effects of President Biden's inflation. The survey also plays a key role in shaping how inflation itself will be measured because its data is used to set the relative weightings of the various expenditure categories within the Consumer Price Index.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Expenditure Survey. Multiyear Tables. [PDF Documents: 1984-1991, 1992-1999, 2000-2005, 2006-2012, 2013-2020, 2021]. Accessed 8 September 2022. 

Average Earned Personal Income Grows in July 2022

Americans saw both their average nominal and inflation-adjusted income per capita rise for the first time since February in July 2022.

Political Calculations' initial estimate of the average per capita income of Americans in July 2022 is $34,400, a $330 (or nearly 1%) increase from June 2022's estimate of $34,030. The following chart tracking the average individual earned income during the Biden era shows the increase in both nominal and inflation-adjusted terms.

Average Individual Earned Income in the Biden Era, December 2020 - July 2022

In terms of constant July 2022 U.S. dollars, July 2022's average per capita income of $34,400 falls $502 below December 2021's peak of $34,902. By contrast, nominal average per capita income increased by $1,557 since the end of 2021. That difference means that all of the nominal gain in the average wage and salary income earned by Americans was entirely eroded by inflation during 2022.

We'll be looking at the latest update to the trends for median household income through July 2022 tomorrow.


U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Table 2.6. Personal Income and Its Disposition, Monthly, Personal Income and Outlays, Not Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly, Middle of Month. Population. [Online Database (via Federal Reserve Economic Data)]. Last Updated: 26 August 2022. Accessed: 26 August 2022.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Table 2.6. Personal Income and Its Disposition, Monthly, Personal Income and Outlays, Not Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly, Middle of Month. Compensation of Employees, Received: Wage and Salary Disbursements. [Online Database (via Federal Reserve Economic Data)]. Last Updated: 26 August 2022. Accessed: 26 August 2022.

U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index, All Urban Consumers - (CPI-U), U.S. City Average, All Items, 1982-84=100. [Online Database (via Federal Reserve Economic Data)]. Last Updated: 10 August 2022. Accessed: 10 August 2022.

Visualizing Foreign and U.S. Ownership of U.S. Corporate Equities

How much of the total U.S. stock market owned by Americans and how much is owned by foreign interests?

We found 70 years worth of Federal Reserve data on the U.S. and foreign ownership of corporate equities answering that question, spanning the entire modern era for the U.S. stock market. Our first chart shows the value of those investments on a linear scale from 1 January 1952 through 1 January 2022.

Foreign and U.S. Ownership of U.S. Corporate Equities by Value, 1 January 1952 - 1 January 2022

Meanwhile, if you're a fan of logarithmic scale data, follow this link....

One thing that log-scale data cannot do well is visually communicate the relative share of foreign versus U.S. ownership. Our next chart focuses just on the share of ownership to reveal the share of the U.S. stock market owned by foreigners has increased from 1.7% in 1952 to 16.5% in 2022.

Foreign and U.S. Ownership of U.S. Corporate Equities by Share of Total, 1 January 1952 - 1 January 2022

The foreign-owned share of U.S. corporate equities peaked at 16.6% on 1 October 2021.


Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Rest of the World; U.S. Corporate Equities; Asset, Level. [Online Database]. Last Updated 9 June 2022.

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. All Sectors; U.S. Corporate Equities; Asset, Market Value Levels. [Online Database]. Last Updated 9 June 2022.