Category Archives: data visualization

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.

Why Hasn’t the Price of Gold Fallen More with the Fed’s Rate Hikes?

On 16 March 2022, after a nearly a year of letting building inflation in the U.S. go unaddressed, the U.S. Federal Reserve finally decided to do something about it. The Fed announced it would begin hiking interest rates, raising them above the near-zero level it had been maintaining. Coincidentally, a week later, we featured a snapshot of the inverse relationship between the price of gold and the inflation-adjusted yield of the 10-Year Constant Maturity Treasury Bond from 2 January 2007 through 17 March 2022. Here's the chart we featured:

Gold Spot Price vs Inflation-Indexed Market Yield of 10-Year Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury, 2 January 2007 - 17 March 2022

It would be reasonable to expect that as the Fed has continued to hike interest rates, the inflation-adjusted yield of a 10-year U.S. Treasury would rise as well. And sure enough, that is what has happened in the five months since. It would also be reasonable for the price of gold to retrace its path along the curve shown in this chart, falling as real interest rates rise. We can confirm that's happened too. But as we're about to reveal in the next chart, by nowhere near as much as the relationship established in the previous 15 years implies:

Gold Spot Price vs Inflation-Indexed Market Yield of 10-Year Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury, 2 January 2007 - 19 August 2022

The red line added to the chart tracks the daily spot price of gold with respect to the real yield of the 10-Year Constatn Maturity U.S. Treasury from 16 March 2022 through 19 August 2022. During this period, the price of gold has averaged being $439 higher than the level indicated by the black-dashed curve modelling the inverse relationship between these variables.

That outcome suggests the Fed's current strategy for combatting inflation may be failing to achieve the full effect Fed officials are counting upon. That's also despite their policies' seeming success in boosting the value of the U.S. dollar, which should also contribute to reducing the price of gold:

The dollar is soaring against the world's major currencies, heading for its biggest calendar year rise in almost 40 years and third biggest since President Richard Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard over half a century ago.

Will the Fed be worried? Not one bit.

Quite the opposite. All else equal, the dollar's strength will help cool price pressures by reducing import costs, and tighten financial conditions, both desired goals for Jerome Powell and colleagues as they try to bring 40-year high inflation back towards their 2% target.

15 August 2022 marked the 51st anniversary of Nixon's closure of the gold window, when an ounce of gold cost $43. If the price of gold had grown at an average of 2% per year and compounded monthly, that ounce would cost $119.25 today. On 15 August 2022, the price of an ounce of gold was $1,778.57.

Speaking of the rise in the value of the U.S. dollar:

The dollar is hovering around a 20-year peak against a basket of major currencies. It is up 13.5% so far this year - on course for its biggest calendar year rise since 1984, and third largest since the dollar's convertibility to gold ended in 1971.

There's that gold-based reference point again! Why does Reuters columnist Jamie McGeever keep going back to it unless it's somehow meaningful for measuring the Fed's performance? Let's assume it is, which raises some questions.

If the Fed was succeeding in reducing inflation it believes is transitory, shouldn't that calendar year rise in the relative value of the U.S. dollar be much higher? Shouldn't the price of gold have fallen much more than it has? Or has the inflation the Federal Reserve's and President Biden's policies wrought permanently ratcheted up its value?

Or is it all just a matter of time before the value of the U.S. dollar spikes upward even higher and the price of gold collapses? How long does the Federal Reserve think that might take?