Chart of the day: The USA’s lost decade

By Felix Salmon
March 2, 2010
Free Exchange reprints this fantastic chart from the Economist:

" data-share-img="" data-share="twitter,facebook,linkedin,reddit,google" data-share-count="true">

Free Exchange reprints this fantastic chart from the Economist:


The really fascinating charts, for me, are the second two. The one in the middle shows how consumption grew a little bit faster than income through the 70s, 80s, and 90s — but then the gap between the two completely spiralled out of control in the 2000s. There’s your credit boom and inevitable crunch right there.

And I can’t help but look at the payrolls chart in the light of the anti-immigration sentiments of Lou Dobbs and the like. It’s a lot easier to welcome foreigners to your shores when your payrolls are growing by 20% a decade than when they’re shrinking.

Incidentally, I think there’s a misprint in the graphic: the third chart shouldn’t have that asterisk, since the growth rate in that one is per decade, not per year. It seems silly to do it that way, I would have made all the growth rates annual, and maybe added a population-growth or bar to the final chart.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Count yours truly as a member of “the like.”

And for the most part, they’ve been crossing the southern border, not landing at those sandy shores.

Posted by Mega | Report as abusive

anti-ILLEGAL-immigration Mr. Salmon. That one word is very important.

Despite reading as many of the finacial columns and blogs here on Reuters I still find it hard to grasp just what Wall Street is about. I shall continue to push forward though and hopefully one day have a revelation. Or at the very least a clue.

Posted by iflydaplanes | Report as abusive

anti-illegal immigration is still anti-immigration. The bias against any sort of immigrants coming to America is so strong that British and Canadian citizens, who have no trouble with our language, still find it almost impossible to gain citizenship except via marriage…and even then the Feds look at you with a peery eye. That leaves those who want to come here honestly and earn a living no recourse but to do so illegally, and then raise their children who might be born here as American citizens.
When you don’t allow immigrants of any stripe, illegal immigration flourishes. Back off on the hard line, and recognize that there are zillions of good people who want to come here, and things just might change for the better.


Posted by REDruin | Report as abusive

I don’t see any reason why immigration backlash will be limited to illegal immigrants. H1-B visa holders are experiencing a rising tide of frustration as well. The number of technically skilled Americans who can’t find work is through the roof and in my own search for a new job I am seeing companies offering salaries 20%-50% lower than what they were five years ago. I’m not saying those people should all be sent home, but the argument that there are no citizens with those skills available doesn’t hold water either.

Posted by JonHocut | Report as abusive

So, why are we adding new entitlements to the deficit at a record pace?

And, yeah, when the Obama admin gets into amnesty that needs to be stopped, too, as the charts amply demonstrate.
[For a light hearted take our present peril]

Posted by LibertyAtStake | Report as abusive

“That leaves those who want to come here honestly and earn a
living no recourse but to do so illegally…”

They have recourse to staying home.

Do you know what a “border” is?

Posted by Mega | Report as abusive

RED, the word illegal doesn’t make a difference? Then that is to say there is no difference between someone going into a bank, filling out a withdrawal slip, and withdrawing money from their account and someone going into a bank and robbing it. Both had intentions of obtaining money, but there should be no difference that one person withdrew money in accordance with the law and one did not?

So if I were to say I was anti-ILLEGAL-money withdrawing (aka robbery)then I would also be against people withdrawing money in general according to you.

Yes, I know I made up the term anti-illegal-money withdrawing, so you don’t have to point that out to me. I used it to make a comparison.

Posted by iflydaplanes | Report as abusive

One thing that gets elided a lot in the immigration debate is that if you think U.S. immigration law is too restrictive, the solution is to craft a fairer immigration law, not permit massive violations of immigration law.

Posted by najdorf | Report as abusive

No matter the issue or opinions, we live in a nation reputedly governed by rule of law. If you let illegal immigration occur, you set the precedent of allowing laws to be openly ignored. To end slavery, discrimination or any other major issue was not possible until laws were written to redefine the way in which these issues were dealt. If you are against stopping illegal immigration, you must first convince the majority of voters to your cause and force a change in the law. Using the courts to try to circumvent the law destroys the whole purpose for the courts in the first place, and on method alone I oppose any action taken as illegal and setting bad precedent. Any entering *any* nation or staying illegally are in violation of that nation’s laws. That or any nation is not obligated to change its policies to (after the fact) declare a de facto pardon for breaking the law. You would be, in effect, destroying the society these immigrants deserve to emigrate to, and turning my own nation into one that does not respect the rule of law.

Posted by bfoulkrod | Report as abusive


Your noted typo is more than just a typo. The period covered by the 00s bar goes from a business-cycle peak to a business-cycle trough (we hope). If, instead, you compare 2007 with 1997 you get 12% growth (2006 vs. 1996 gives 14%). Both are large drops from prior decades, but not as dramatic as the graph, which certainly overstates the drop.

Posted by Eric_H | Report as abusive

Come on people, except for the Indians, everyone else is an immigrant. We are like the guy who hops on the bus and hope it drives off sooner before it gets too crowded.
Anyway, we are all human. “I” always know better.

Posted by doctorjay317 | Report as abusive

I was born in Indiana, Doctorjay. How am I an immigrant?

In the second chart, it shows an increase in personal income. In the third, it shows a decrease in non-farm payroll. Did farmers get a raise big enough to cover that spread, or are these charts using separte sets of data?

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive