Economy of the United States

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Economy of the United States of America
Manhattan from top of the rock, hdr.JPG
New York City, financial center of the United States
Rank1st (nominal) / 1st (PPP)
CurrencyUS$ (USD)
October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013
GDP$17.15 trillion (Q1 2014)[1][2]
GDP growth
1.9% (2013)[1]
GDP per capita
$53,101 (2013)[2]
(9th, nominal; 6th, PPP)
GDP by sector
agriculture: 1.2%, industry: 19%, services: 80% (2011 est.)
1.5% (2013)[3]
Population below poverty line
15.0% (2012)[4]
0.48 (2011) (List of countries)[5]
Labor force
156 million (11.26 mil. unemployed) [6]
Labor force by occupation

farming, forestry, and fishing: 0.7% manufacturing, extraction, transportation, and crafts: 20% managerial, professional, and technical[disambiguation needed]: 37% sales and office: 24% other services: 18% (2009)

[note: figures exclude the unemployed]
Unemployment6.3% (April 2014)[6]   positive decrease (0.4%)
Average gross salary
$49,000 (December 2013)[7]
Main industries
Highly diversified, world-leading, high-technology innovator, largest industrial output in world; petroleum, steel, motor vehicles, aerospace, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics, food processing, consumer goods, lumber, mining
Exports$1.57 trillion (2013)[9]
Export goods
Capital goods, 28%; industrial supplies and materials (except oil fuels), 25%; consumer goods (except automotive), 12%; automotive vehicles and components, 9.4%; food, feed[disambiguation needed], and beverages, 8.6%; fuel oil and petroleum products, 7.6%; aircraft and components, 6%; other, 4%.
Main export partners
 Canada 19%
 Mexico 14%
 China 7%
 Japan 4.5% (2012 est.)[10]
Imports$2.30 trillion (2013)[9]
Import goods
Consumer goods (except automotive), 23%; capital goods (except computing), 19%; industrial supplies (except crude oil), 18%; crude oil, 14%; automotive vehicles and components, 13%; computers and accessories, 5.4%; food, feed, and beverages, 4.8%; other, 3%.
Main import partners
 China 19%
 Canada 14%
 Mexico 12%
 Japan 6.4%
 Germany 4.7% (2012 est.)[11]
FDI stock
$2.8 trillion (2012)[12]
$16.7 trillion / 97% of GDP (December 2013)[13]
Public finances
$17.3 trillion[14] / 98% of GDP[15]
$680 billion (2013)[16]
Revenues$2.77 trillion (individual income tax, 47.4%; social insurance, 34.2%; corporate taxes, 9.9%; other, 8.5% – 2013)[16]
Expenses$3.45 trillion (Social Security, 23.2%; defense, 17.6%; Medicare, 14.3%; Medicaid, 7.7%; interest, 7.5%; unemployment, 2.0%; education, 2.0%; other, 25.7% – 2013) [16]
Economic aidODA $19 billion, 0.2% of GDP (2004)[17]
Foreign reserves
$152 billion (Dec. 2012)[21]
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.
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Economy of the United States of America
Manhattan from top of the rock, hdr.JPG
New York City, financial center of the United States
Rank1st (nominal) / 1st (PPP)
CurrencyUS$ (USD)
October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013
GDP$17.15 trillion (Q1 2014)[1][2]
GDP growth
1.9% (2013)[1]
GDP per capita
$53,101 (2013)[2]
(9th, nominal; 6th, PPP)
GDP by sector
agriculture: 1.2%, industry: 19%, services: 80% (2011 est.)
1.5% (2013)[3]
Population below poverty line
15.0% (2012)[4]
0.48 (2011) (List of countries)[5]
Labor force
156 million (11.26 mil. unemployed) [6]
Labor force by occupation

farming, forestry, and fishing: 0.7% manufacturing, extraction, transportation, and crafts: 20% managerial, professional, and technical[disambiguation needed]: 37% sales and office: 24% other services: 18% (2009)

[note: figures exclude the unemployed]
Unemployment6.3% (April 2014)[6]   positive decrease (0.4%)
Average gross salary
$49,000 (December 2013)[7]
Main industries
Highly diversified, world-leading, high-technology innovator, largest industrial output in world; petroleum, steel, motor vehicles, aerospace, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics, food processing, consumer goods, lumber, mining
Exports$1.57 trillion (2013)[9]
Export goods
Capital goods, 28%; industrial supplies and materials (except oil fuels), 25%; consumer goods (except automotive), 12%; automotive vehicles and components, 9.4%; food, feed[disambiguation needed], and beverages, 8.6%; fuel oil and petroleum products, 7.6%; aircraft and components, 6%; other, 4%.
Main export partners
 Canada 19%
 Mexico 14%
 China 7%
 Japan 4.5% (2012 est.)[10]
Imports$2.30 trillion (2013)[9]
Import goods
Consumer goods (except automotive), 23%; capital goods (except computing), 19%; industrial supplies (except crude oil), 18%; crude oil, 14%; automotive vehicles and components, 13%; computers and accessories, 5.4%; food, feed, and beverages, 4.8%; other, 3%.
Main import partners
 China 19%
 Canada 14%
 Mexico 12%
 Japan 6.4%
 Germany 4.7% (2012 est.)[11]
FDI stock
$2.8 trillion (2012)[12]
$16.7 trillion / 97% of GDP (December 2013)[13]
Public finances
$17.3 trillion[14] / 98% of GDP[15]
$680 billion (2013)[16]
Revenues$2.77 trillion (individual income tax, 47.4%; social insurance, 34.2%; corporate taxes, 9.9%; other, 8.5% – 2013)[16]
Expenses$3.45 trillion (Social Security, 23.2%; defense, 17.6%; Medicare, 14.3%; Medicaid, 7.7%; interest, 7.5%; unemployment, 2.0%; education, 2.0%; other, 25.7% – 2013) [16]
Economic aidODA $19 billion, 0.2% of GDP (2004)[17]
Foreign reserves
$152 billion (Dec. 2012)[21]
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.
Historical US GDP per capita, 1929–2011
US income distribution by county, 2009
Throughout this article, the unqualified term "dollar" and the $ symbol refer to the US dollar.

The economy of the United States is the world's largest single national economy. The United States' nominal GDP was estimated to be $16.8 trillion as of 2013,[1] approximately a quarter of nominal global GDP.[2] Its GDP at purchasing power parity is also the largest of any single country in the world, approximately a fifth of the global total.[2] The United States has a mixed economy[22][23] and has maintained a stable overall GDP growth rate, a moderate unemployment rate, and high levels of research and capital investment. Its five largest trading partners are Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and Germany.

The US has abundant natural resources, a well-developed infrastructure, and high productivity.[24] It has the world's seventh-highest per capita GDP (PPP).[2] The U.S. is the world's third-largest producer of oil and largest producer of natural gas. It is the second-largest trading nation in the world behind China.[25] It has been the world's largest national economy (not including colonial empires) since at least the 1890s.[26] As of 2010, the country remains the world's largest manufacturer, representing a fifth of the global manufacturing output.[27] Of the world's 500 largest companies, 132 are headquartered in the US, twice that of any other country.[28] The country has one of the world's largest and most influential financial markets. The New York Stock Exchange is by far the world's largest stock exchange by market capitalization.[29] Foreign investments made in the US total almost $2.4 trillion,[30] while American investments in foreign countries total over $3.3 trillion.[31] Consumer spending comprises 71% of the US economy in 2013.[32] The labor market has attracted immigrants from all over the world and its net migration rate is among the highest in the world. The U.S. is one of the top-performing economies in studies such as the Ease of Doing Business Index, the Global Competitiveness Report,[33] and others.

The US economy is currently embroiled in the economic downturn which followed the financial crisis of 2007–08, with output still below potential according to the Congressional Budget Office[34] and unemployment still above historic trends while household incomes have stagnated.[35] As of September 2013, the unemployment rate was 7.2% (11.26 million people),[6] while the government's broader U-6 unemployment rate, which includes the part-time underemployed, was 13.1%.[36][37] At 11.3%, the U.S. has one of the lowest labor union participation rates in the OECD.[38] Households living on less than $2 per day before government benefits, doubled from 1996 levels to 1.5 million households in 2011, including 2.8 million children.[39] The wealthiest 10% of the population possess 80% of all financial assets.[40] Total public and private debt was $50.2 trillion at the end of the first quarter of 2010, or 3.5 times GDP.[41] In December 2013, the total of the public debt was about 1.015 times GDP.[42] Domestic financial assets totaled $131 trillion and domestic financial liabilities totaled $106 trillion.[43]


The economic history of the United States has its roots in European settlements in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The American colonies went from marginally successful colonial economies to a small, independent farming economy, which in 1776 became the United States of America. In 180 years the US grew to a huge, integrated, industrialized economy that still makes up around one fifth of the world economy. As a result, the US GDP per capita converged on and eventually surpassed that of the U.K., as well as other nations that it previously trailed economically. The economy has maintained high wages, attracting immigrants by the millions from all over the world.[44]

In the 19th century, recessions frequently coincided with financial crises. The Panic of 1837 was followed by a five-year depression, with the failure of banks and then-record-high unemployment levels.[45] Because of the great changes in the economy over the centuries, it is difficult to compare the severity of modern recessions to early recessions.[46] Recessions after World War II appear to have been less severe than earlier recessions, but the reasons for this are unclear.[47]

World's largest economy[edit]

The United States has been the world's largest national economy since at least the 1920s.[26] For many years following the Great Depression of the 1930s, when danger of recession appeared most serious, the government strengthened the economy by spending heavily itself or cutting taxes so that consumers would spend more, and by fostering rapid growth in the money supply, which also encouraged more spending. Ideas about the best tools for stabilizing the economy changed substantially between the 1930s and the 1980s. From the New Deal era that began in 1933, to the Great Society initiatives of the 1960s, national policy makers relied principally on fiscal policy to influence the economy.

The approach, advanced by British economist John Maynard Keynes, gave elected officials a leading role in directing the economy, since spending and taxes are controlled by the U.S. President and the Congress. The "Baby Boom" saw a dramatic increase in fertility in the period 1942–1957; it was caused by delayed marriages and childbearing during depression years, a surge in prosperity, a demand for suburban single-family homes (as opposed to inner city apartments) and new optimism about the future. The boom crested about 1957, then slowly declined.[48] A period of high inflation, interest rates and unemployment after 1973 weakened confidence in fiscal policy as a tool for regulating the overall pace of economic activity.[49]

The US economy grew by an average of 3.8% from 1946 to 1973, while real median household income surged 74% (or 2.1% a year).[50][51] The economy since 1973, however, has been characterized by both slower growth (averaging 2.7%), and nearly stagnant living standards, with household incomes increasing by 10%, or only 0.3% annually.[52]

The worst recession in recent decades, in terms of lost output, occurred during the financial crisis of 2007–08, when GDP fell by 5.0% from the spring of 2008 to the spring of 2009. Other significant recessions took place in 1957–58, when GDP fell 3.7%, following the 1973 oil crisis, with a 3.1% fall from late 1973 to early 1975, and in the 1981–82 recession, when GDP dropped by 2.9%.[53][54] Recent, mild recessions have included the 1990–91 downturn, when output fell by 1.3%, and the 2001 recession, in which GDP slid by 0.3%; the 2001 downturn lasted just eight months.[54] The most vigorous, sustained periods of growth, on the other hand, took place from early 1961 to mid-1969, with an expansion of 53% (5.1% a year), from mid-1991 to late in 2000, at 43% (3.8% a year), and from late 1982 to mid-1990, at 37% (4% a year).[53]

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was popular in the U.S. to believe that Japan's economy would surpass that of the United States, but this did not happen.[55]

Slower growth since the early 1970s[edit]

Since the 1970s, several emerging countries have begun to close the economic gap with the United States. In most cases, this has been due to moving the manufacture of goods formerly made in the U.S. to countries where they could be made for sufficiently less money to cover the cost of shipping plus a higher profit.

In other cases, some countries have gradually learned to produce the same products and services that previously only the U.S. and a few other countries could produce. Real income growth in the U.S. has slowed.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, created the largest trade bloc in the world in 1994.

Since 1976, the US has sustained merchandise trade deficits with other nations, and since 1982, current account deficits. The nation's long-standing surplus in its trade in services was maintained, however, and reached a record US$231 billion in 2013.[9] In recent years, the primary economic concerns have centered on: high household debt ($11 trillion, including $2.5 trillion in revolving debt),[56] high net national debt ($9 trillion), high corporate debt ($9 trillion), high mortgage debt (over $15 trillion as of 2005 year-end), high external debt (amount owed to foreign lenders), high trade deficits, a serious deterioration in the United States net international investment position (NIIP) (−24% of GDP),[57] and high unemployment.[58] In 2006, the U.S. economy had its lowest saving rate since 1933.[59] These issues have raised concerns among economists and national politicians.[60]

The United States economy experienced a crisis in 2008 led by a derivatives market and subprime mortgage crisis, and a declining dollar value.[61] On December 1, 2008, the NBER declared that the United States entered a recession in December 2007, citing employment and production figures as well as the third quarter decline in GDP.[62] The recession did, however, lead to a reduction in record trade deficits, which fell from $840 billion annually during the 2006–08 period, to $500 billion in 2009,[53][63] as well as to higher personal savings rates, which jumped from a historic low of 1% in early 2008, to nearly 5% in late 2009. The merchandise trade deficit rose to $670 billion in 2010; savings rates, however, remained at around 5%.[64]

The U.S. public debt was $909 billion in 1980, an amount equal to 33.3% of America's gross domestic product (GDP; by 1990, that number had more than tripled to $3.2 trillion – or 55.9% of GDP.[65] In 2001 the national debt was $5.7 trillion; however, the debt-to-GDP ratio remained at 1990 levels.[66] Debt levels rose quickly in the following decade, and on January 28, 2010, the US debt ceiling was raised to $14.3 trillion.[67] Based on the 2010 United States federal budget, total national debt will grow to nearly 100% of GDP, versus a level of approximately 80% in early 2009.[68] The White House estimates that the government’s tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion a year in 2019,[69] up from $202 billion in 2009.[70]

The U.S. Treasury statistics indicate that, at the end of 2006, non-US citizens and institutions held 44% of federal debt held by the public.[71] China, holding $801.5 billion in treasury bonds, is the largest foreign financier of the record U.S. public debt.[72]

US share of world GDP (nominal) peaked in 1985 with 32.74% of global GDP (nominal). Its second highest share was 32.24% in 2001.
US share of world GDP (PPP) peaked in 1999 with 23.78% of global GDP (PPP). While its share has been declining each year since 1999, it is still the highest in the world.


The growth in total US GDP vs median US household income, 1989–2011.

Business culture[edit]

A central feature of the U.S. economy is the economic freedom afforded to the private sector by allowing the private sector to make the majority of economic decisions in determining the direction and scale of what the U.S. economy produces.[73][broken citation][neutrality is disputed] This is enhanced by relatively low levels of regulation and government involvement,[74] as well as a court system that generally protects property rights and enforces contracts. Today, the United States is home to 29.6 million small businesses, 30% of the world's millionaires, 40% of the world's billionaires, as well as 139 of the world's 500 largest companies.[28][75][76][77]

From its emergence as an independent nation, the United States has encouraged science and innovation. As a result, the United States has been the birthplace of 161 of Britannica's 321 Great Inventions, including items such as the airplane, internet, microchip, laser, cellphone, refrigerator, email, microwave, personal computer, LCD and LED technology, air conditioning, assembly line, supermarket, bar code, electric motor, ATM, and many more.[78]

The United States is rich in mineral resources and fertile farm soil, and it is fortunate to have a moderate climate. It also has extensive coastlines on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as on the Gulf of Mexico. Rivers flow from far within the continent and the Great Lakes—five large, inland lakes along the U.S. border with Canada—provide additional shipping access. These extensive waterways have helped shape the country's economic growth over the years and helped bind America's 50 individual states together in a single economic unit.[79]

The number of workers and, more importantly, their productivity help determine the health of the U.S. economy. Consumer spending in the US rose to about 62% of GDP in 1960, where it stayed until about 1981, and has since risen to 71% in 2013.[32] Throughout its history, the United States has experienced steady growth in the labor force, a phenomenon that is both cause and effect of almost constant economic expansion. Until shortly after World War I, most workers were immigrants from Europe, their immediate descendants, or African Americans who were mostly slaves taken from Africa, or their descendants.[80]

Demographic shift[edit]

Beginning in the late 20th century, many Latin Americans immigrated, followed by large numbers of Asians after the removal of nation-origin based immigration quotas.[81] The promise of high wages brings many highly skilled workers from around the world to the United States, as well as millions of illegal immigrants seeking work in the informal economy. Over 13 million people officially entered the United States during the 1990s alone.[82]

Labor mobility has also been important to the capacity of the American economy to adapt to changing conditions.[citation needed] When immigrants flooded labor markets on the East Coast, many workers moved inland, often to farmland waiting to be tilled. Similarly, economic opportunities in industrial, northern cities attracted black Americans from southern farms in the first half of the 20th century, in what was known as the Great Migration.

In the United States, the corporation has emerged as an association of owners, known as stockholders, who form a business enterprise governed by a complex set of rules and customs. Brought on by the process of mass production, corporations, such as General Electric, have been instrumental in shaping the United States. Through the stock market, American banks and investors have grown their economy by investing and withdrawing capital from profitable corporations. Today in the era of globalization, American investors and corporations have influence all over the world. The American government is also included among the major investors in the American economy. Government investments have been directed towards public works of scale (such as from the Hoover Dam), military-industrial contracts, and the financial industry.

GDP by industry[edit]

Industries by GDP value added 2011.[83]

IndustryGDP value added $ billions 2011 % of total GDP
Real estate, renting, leasing1,89813%
State and Local Government1,3369%
Finance and insurance1,1598%
Health/social care1,1368%
Durable manufacturing9106%
Retail trade9056%
Wholesale trade8456%
Non-durable manufacturing8216%
Federal Government6585%
Arts, entertainment5914%
Waste services4483%
Other services4473%
Corporate management2842%
Education services1741%


The Percentage of the US population employed, 1995–2012.
The United States Labor Force Participation Rate from 1948 to 2011 by gender. Men are represented in light blue, women in pink, and the total in black.

There are approximately 154.4 million employed individuals in the US. Government is the largest employment sector with 22 million.[84] Small businesses are the largest employer in the country representing 53% of US workers.[76] The second largest share of employment belongs to large businesses that employ 38% of the US workforce.[76]

The private sector employs 91% of Americans. Government accounts for 8% of all US workers. Over 99% of all employing organizations in the US are small businesses.[76] The 30 million small businesses in the U.S. account for 64% of newly created jobs (those created minus those lost).[76] Jobs in small businesses accounted for 70% of those created in the last decade.[85]

The proportion of Americans employed by small business versus large business has remained relatively the same year by year as some small businesses become large businesses and just over half of small businesses survive more than 5 years.[76] Amongst large businesses, several of the largest companies and employers in the world are American companies. Amongst them are Walmart, the largest company and the largest private sector employer in the world, which employs 2.1 million people world-wide and 1.4 million in the US alone.[86][87]

United States mean duration of unemployment 1948–2010.

There are nearly 30 million small businesses in the US. Minorities such as Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans (35% of the country's population),[88] own 4.1 million of the country's businesses. Minority-owned businesses generate almost $700 billion in revenue and employ almost 5 million workers in the U.S.[76]

The median household income in the US as of 2008 is $52,029.[90] About 284,000 working people in the US have two full-time jobs and 7.6 million have a part-time job in addition to their full-time employment.[84] Of working individuals in the US, 12% belong to a labor union; most union members are government workers.[84] The decline of union membership in the US parallels declining middle class incomes;[91] by contrast, they have retained their clout in Western Europe.[92] The World Bank ranks the United States first in the ease of hiring and firing workers.[93] The United States is the only advanced economy that that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation or paid sick days, and is one of just a few countries in the world without paid family leave as a legal right, with the others being Papua New Guinea, Suriname and Liberia.[94][95][96]


As of February 2013, the unemployment rate in the United States was 7.7%[97] or 12.0 million people,[98] while the government's broader U-6 unemployment rate, which includes the part-time underemployed was 14.3%[99] or 22.2 million people. These figures were calculated with a civilian labor force of approximately 155 million people,[100] relative to a U.S. population of approximately 315 million people.[101]

In 2009 through 2013, following the Great Recession, the emerging problem of jobless recoveries resulted in record levels of long-term unemployment with over 6 million workers looking for work longer than 6 months as of January, 2010. This particularly affected older workers.[58] Since the recession's end in June 2009 in the United States, immigrants have gained 656,000 jobs, while U.S.-born workers lost more than a million jobs.[102]

In April 2010, the official unemployment rate was 9.9%, but the government’s broader U-6 unemployment rate was 17.1%.[103] In the period between February 2008 and February 2010, the number of people working part-time for economic reasons has increased by 4 million to 8.8 million, an 83% increase in part-time workers during the two-year period.[104] By 2013, although the unemployment rate had fallen below 8%, the record proportion of long term unemployed, continued decreasing household income, and new federal budget cuts remained indicative of a jobless recovery.[37]

After being higher in the postwar period, the U.S. unemployment rate fell below the rising eurozone unemployment rate in the mid-1980s and has remained significantly lower almost continuously since.[105][106][107] In 1955, 55% of Americans worked in services, between 30% and 35% in industry, and between 10% and 15% in agriculture. By 1980, over 65% were employed in services, between 25% and 30% in industry, and less than 5% in agriculture.[108] Male unemployment continued to be significantly higher than female unemployment (9.8% vs. 7.5% in 2009). The unemployment among Caucasians continues to be much lower than African-American unemployment (at 8.5% vs. 15.8% in 2009).[109]

The youth unemployment rate was 18.5% in July 2009, the highest July rate since 1948.[110] The unemployment rate of young African Americans was 28.2% in May 2013.[111] Officially, Detroit’s unemployment rate is 27%, but Detroit News suggests that nearly half of this city’s working-age population may be unemployed.[112]

Employment by sector[edit]

United States employment as estimated in 2012, is divided into 79.7% in the service sector, 19.2% in the industry sector and 1.1% in the agriculture sector.[113]

United States non-farm employment by industry sector Feb 2013[114]

IndustryEmployment thousands Feb 2013Percent of total employment
Retail trade15,05610%
Accommodation and food services11,9658%
Professional and technical services8,0246%
Administrative and waste service7,8165%
Local Education7,7585%
Ambulatory health care services6,4594%
Local government (excluding education)6,2704%
Finance and insurance5,8694%
Wholesale trade5,7364%
Transportation and warehousing4,4723%
Non-durable goods manufacturing4,4713%
Educational services3,3203%
Nursing and residential care3,2092%
Membership associations and organizations2,9472%
Federal government2,7952%
Social assistance2,7102%
State government (excluding education)2,6572%
State education2,3612%
Management of companies and enterprises2,0221%
Arts, entertainment and recreation1,9881%
Real estate, rental and leasing1,9741%
Personal and laundry services1,3301%
Repair and maintenance1,203<1%
Mining and logging869<1%
Durable goods manufacturing349<1%

Research, development, and entrepreneurship[edit]

Tennessee in 1897. The US was a leader in the adoption of electric lighting

The United States has been a leader in scientific research and technological innovation since the late 19th century. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone. Thomas Edison's laboratory developed the phonograph, the first long-lasting light bulb, and the first viable movie camera. Nikola Tesla pioneered the AC induction motor and high frequency power transmission used in radio. In the early 20th century, the automobile companies of Ransom E. Olds and Henry Ford popularized the assembly line. The Wright brothers, in 1903, made the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.[115]

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are two of the best-known American entrepreneurs of recent times.

American society highly emphasizes entrepreneurship and business. Entrepreneurship is the act of being an entrepreneur, which can be defined as "one who undertakes innovations, finance and business acumen in an effort to transform innovations into economic goods". This may result in new organizations or may be part of revitalizing mature organizations in response to a perceived opportunity.[116]

The most obvious form of entrepreneurship refers to the process and engagement of starting new businesses (referred as Startup Company); however, in recent years, the term has been extended to include social and political forms of entrepreneurial activity. When entrepreneurship is describing activities within a firm or large organization it is referred to as intra-preneurship and may include corporate venturing, when large entities spin-off organizations.[116]

According to Paul Reynolds, entrepreneurship scholar and creator of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, "by the time they reach their retirement years, half of all working men in the United States probably have a period of self-employment of one or more years; one in four may have engaged in self-employment for six or more years. Participating in a new business creation is a common activity among U.S. workers over the course of their careers."[117] And in recent years has been documented by scholars such as David Audretsch to be a major driver of economic growth in both the United States and Western Europe.

Venture capital, as an industry, originated in the United States and it is still dominated by the U.S.[118] According to the National Venture Capital Association 11% of private sector jobs come from venture capital backed companies and venture capital backed revenue accounts for 21% of US GDP.[119]

Some new American businesses raise investments from angel investors (venture capitalists). In 2010 healthcare/medical accounted for the largest share of angel investments, with 30% of total angel investments (vs. 17% in 2009), followed by software (16% vs. 19% in 2007), biotech (15% vs. 8% in 2009), industrial/energy (8% vs. 17% in 2009), retail (5% vs. 8% in 2009) and IT services (5%).[120][clarification needed]

Americans are “venturesome consumers” who are unusually willing to try new products of all sorts, and to pester manufacturers to improve their products.[121]

Wealth, poverty, and income distribution[edit]

The distribution of net wealth in the United States, 2007. The chart is divided into the top 20% (blue), upper middle 20% (orange), middle 20% (red), and bottom 40% (green). (The net wealth of many people in the lowest 20% is negative because of debt.)[122]

While inflation-adjusted ("real") household income had been increasing almost every year from 1945 to 1999, it has since been flat and even decreased recently.[123] U.S. median household income fell from $51,144 in 2010 to $50,502 in 2011.[124] As of 2014, middle class incomes in the United States now lag behind Canada, and other advanced economies are closing the gap as their citizens have been receiving higher raises than their American counterparts.[125] The top 1 percent captured 95 percent of the income gains from 2009 to 2012.[126] The rise in the share of total annual income received by the top 1 percent has more than doubled from 9 percent in 1976 to 20 percent in 2011.[127]

The top 10% wealthiest possess 80% of all financial assets.[40] Although different from income inequality, the two are related. A 2011 study found that US citizens across the political spectrum dramatically underestimate the current US wealth inequality and would prefer a far more egalitarian distribution of wealth.[128] Wealth inequality in the U.S. is greater than in most developed countries other than Switzerland and Denmark.[129]

About 30% of the entire world's millionaire population resides in the United States (as of 2009).[130] The Economist Intelligence Unit estimated in 2008 that there were 16,600,000 millionaires in the U.S.[131] Furthermore, 34% of the world's billionaires are American (in 2011).[75][132]

A number of economists and others have expressed growing concern about income inequality in the second decade of the 21st century, calling it "deeply worrying",[133] unjust,[134] a danger to democracy/social stability,[135][136][137][138][139] or a sign of national decline.[140] Yale professor Robert Shiller has said, "The most important problem that we are facing now today, I think, is rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere in the world."[141] Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics argues that the post-1980 increase in inequality played a role in the 2008 crisis by contributing to the nation's financial instability.[142]

Productivity and Real Median Family Income Growth 1947-2009. There has been a widening gap between productivity and median incomes since the 1970s.[143]

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, decreased progressiveness in capital gains taxes was the largest contributor to the increase in overall income inequality in the US from 1996 to 2006.[144] Race and color also have an impact - single black and Hispanic women in Oakland, California have a median wealth of $100 and $120 respectively, while the median for single white women is $41,500.[145]

The United States has the greatest income disparity of all developed nations.[146][147][148] The Brookings Institution said in March 2013 that income inequality was increasing and becoming permanent, sharply reducing social mobility in the US.[149] The OECD ranks the US 10th in social mobility, behind the Nordic countries, Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, and France.[150] This has been partly attributed to the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind.[151]

Home ownership[edit]

The average home in the United States has more than 700 square feet per person, which is 50%–100% more than the average in other high-income countries. Similarly, ownership rates of gadgets and amenities are relatively high compared to other countries.[152][153][154]

Between June 2007 and November 2008 the global recession led to falling asset prices around the world. Assets owned by Americans lost about a quarter of their value.[155] Since peaking in the second quarter of 2007, household wealth is down $14 trillion.[156] The Fed also said that at the end of 2008, the debt owed by nonfinancial sectors was $33.5 trillion, including household debt valued at $13.8 trillion.[157]

Profits and wages[edit]

Real compensation per hour in the USA (1947-2013)

In March 2013, as the stock market's Dow Jones Industrial Average set record highs, household and personal income were both down sharply from their 2007 peaks. In 1970, wages represented more than 51% of the U.S. GDP and profits were less than 5%. But by 2013, wages had fallen to 44% of the economy, while profits had more than doubled to 11%.[158] Inflation-adjusted ("real") per-capita disposable personal income rose steadily in the U.S. from 1945 to 2008, but has since remained generally level.[159][160]

In 2005, median personal income for those over the age of 18 ranged from $3,317 for an unemployed, married Asian American female[161] to $55,935 for a full-time, year-round employed Asian American male.[162] According to the US Census men tended to have higher income than women while Asians and Whites earned more than African Americans and Hispanics. The overall median personal income for all individuals over the age of 18 was $24,062[163] ($32,140 for those age 25 or above) in the year 2005.[164]

The overall median income for all 155 million persons over the age of 15 who worked with earnings in 2005 was $28,567.[165] As a reference point, the minimum wage rate in 2009 was $7.25 per hour or $15,080 for the 2080 hours in a typical work year. The minimum wage is a little more than the poverty level for a single person unit and about 50% of the poverty level for a family of four.


The gap between rich and poor is greater in the United States than in any other developed country.[166] Starting in the 1980s relative poverty rates have consistently exceeded those of other wealthy nations, though analyses using a common data set for comparisons tend to find that the U.S. has a lower absolute poverty rate by market income than most other wealthy nations.[167] Extreme poverty in the United States, meaning households living on less than $2 per day before government benefits, doubled from 1996 levels to 1.5 million households in 2011, including 2.8 million children.[39] In 2013, child poverty reached record high levels, with 16.7 million children living in food insecure households, about 35% more than 2007 levels.[168]

Half of the U.S. population lives in poverty or is low-income, according to U.S. census data.[169] According to a survey by the Associated Press, four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives.[170] Feeding America reported in 2014 that 49 million Americans are "food insecure."[171]

The population in extreme-poverty neighborhoods rose by one-third from 2000 to 2009.[172] People living in such neighborhoods tend to suffer from inadequate access to quality education; higher crime rates; higher rates of physical and psychological ailment; limited access to credit and wealth accumulation; higher prices for goods and services; and constrained access to job opportunities.[172] As of 2013, 44% of America's poor are considered to be in "deep poverty," with an income 50% or more below the government's official poverty line.[173]

There were about 643,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons in the U.S. in January 2009. Almost two-thirds stayed in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program and the other third were living on the street, in an abandoned building, or another place not meant for human habitation. About 1.56 million people, or about 0.5% of the U.S. population, used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009.[174] Around 44% of homeless people are employed.[175]

The United States has one of the least extensive social safety nets in the developed world, reducing both relative poverty and absolute poverty by considerably less than the mean for wealthy nations.[176][177][178][179]

Financial position[edit]

Components of total US debt as a fraction of GDP 1945–2009

The overall financial position of the United States as of 2009 includes $50.7 trillion of debt owed by US households, businesses, and governments, representing more than 3.5 times the annual gross domestic product of the United States.[41] As of the first quarter of 2010, domestic financial assetsA totaled $131 trillion and domestic financial liabilities $106 trillion.[43] Tangible assets in 2008 (such as real estate and equipment) for selected sectorsB totaled an additional $56.3 trillion.[180]

Since 2010, the U.S. Treasury has been obtaining negative real interest rates on government debt.[181] Such low rates, outpaced by the inflation rate, occur when the market believes that there are no alternatives with sufficiently low risk, or when popular institutional investments such as insurance companies, pensions, or bond, money market, and balanced mutual funds are required or choose to invest sufficiently large sums in Treasury securities to hedge against risk.[182][183] Lawrence Summers, Matthew Yglesias and other economists state that at such low rates, government debt borrowing saves taxpayer money, and improves creditworthiness.[184][185]

In the late 1940s through the early 1970s, the US and UK both reduced their debt burden by about 30% to 40% of GDP per decade by taking advantage of negative real interest rates, but there is no guarantee that government debt rates will continue to stay so low.[182][186] In January, 2012, the U.S. Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association unanimously recommended that government debt be allowed to auction even lower, at negative absolute interest rates.[187]

Now that the connection between public and private debt is better-known,[188][189] U.S. combined debts are worrisome. See Causes of the Great Depression: Debt Deflation.

Composition of economic sectors[edit]

Boeing 747-8 wing-fuselage sections during final assembly
A wheat harvest in Idaho

The United States is the world's 2nd largest manufacturer, with a 2013 industrial output of US$2.43 trillion. Its manufacturing output is greater than of Germany, France, India, and Brazil combined.[190] Main industries include petroleum, steel, automobiles, construction machinery, aerospace, agricultural machinery, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics, food processing, consumer goods, lumber, and mining.

The US leads the world in airplane manufacturing,[191] which represents a large portion of US industrial output. American companies such as Boeing, Cessna (see: Textron), Lockheed Martin (see: Skunk Works), and General Dynamics produce a vast majority of the world's civilian and military aircraft in factories stretching across the United States.

The manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy has experienced substantial job losses over the past several years.[192][193] In January 2004, the number of such jobs stood at 14.3 million, down by 3.0 million jobs, or 17.5 percent, since July 2000 and about 5.2 million since the historical peak in 1979. Employment in manufacturing was its lowest since July 1950.[194] The number of steel workers fell from 500,000 in 1980 to 224,000 in 2000.[195]

The U.S. produces approximately 18% of the world's manufacturing output, a number that has declined as other nations developed competitive manufacturing industries.[196] The job loss during this continual volume growth is the result of multiple factors including increased productivity, trade, and secular economic trends.[197] In addition, growth in telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, aircraft, heavy machinery and other industries along with declines in low end, low skill industries such as clothing, toys, and other simple manufacturing have resulted in U.S. jobs being more highly skilled and better paying.[citation needed] There has been much debate within the United States on whether the decline in manufacturing jobs are related to American unions, lower foreign wages, or both.[198][199][200]

Although agriculture comprises less than two percent of the economy, the United States is a net exporter of food. With vast tracts of temperate arable land, technologically advanced agribusiness, and agricultural subsidies, the United States controls almost half of world grain exports.[201] Products include wheat, corn, other grains, fruits, vegetables, cotton; beef, pork, poultry, dairy products; forest products; fish.

Notable companies and markets[edit]

See also: Forbes 500 and Fortune 500
A typical Walmart discount department store (location: Laredo, Texas).

In 2011, the 20 largest U.S.-based companies by revenue were Walmart, ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Fannie Mae, General Electric, Berkshire Hathaway, General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, Cargill, McKesson Corporation, Bank of America, Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, Apple Inc., Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, and Cardinal Health.

In 2011, four of the world's ten largest companies by market capitalization were American: Exxon Mobil, Apple Inc., Chevron Corporation, and Microsoft.

According to Fortune Global 500 2011, the ten largest U.S. employers were Walmart, U.S. Postal Service, IBM, UPS, McDonald's, Target Corporation, Kroger, The Home Depot, General Electric, and Sears Holdings.

Apple, Google, IBM, McDonald's, and Microsoft are the world's five most valuable brands in an index published by Millward Brown.[202]

A 2012 Deloitte report published in STORES magazine indicated that of the world's top 250 largest retailers by retail sales revenue in fiscal year 2010, 32% of those retailers were based in the United States, and those 32% accounted for 41% of the total retail sales revenue of the top 250.[203] is the world's largest online retailer.

Half of the world's 20 largest semiconductor manufacturers by sales were American-origin in 2011.[204]

Most of the world's largest charitable foundations were founded by Americans.

American producers create nearly all of the world's highest-grossing films. Many of the world's best-selling music artists are based in the United States. U.S. tourism sector welcomes approximately 60 million international visitors every year. The Wall Street Journal is the most circulated newspaper in the United States,[205] reflecting strong business/finance/market/entrepreneurial culture in the US economy.

Forbes top 10 U.S. corporations by revenue[edit]

Top 10 U.S. corporations by revenue in 2013[206]

RANKCORPORATIONREVENUE $ millions 2012[206]PROFIT $ millions 2012[206]ASSETS 12/31/12[207]DEBT RATIO 12/31/12[207]HEADQUARTERSEMPLOYEES 2012MARKET CAP 4/1/13 $ billions[207]INDUSTRY
1Exxon Mobil454,92641,06033450%Irving, TX99,100403Energy
2Wal-Mart Stores446,95015,69920362%Bentonville, AR2,200,000246Retail
3Chevron245,62126,89523341%San Ramon, CA61,189230Energy
4ConocoPhillips245,62112,43611759%Houston, TX29,80073Energy
5General Motors150,4769,19014976%Detroit, MI202,00038Auto
6General Electric147,61614,15168582%Fairfield, Connecticut301,000240Diversified
7Berkshire Hathaway143,68810,25442756%Omaha, NE288,500259Diversified
8Fannie Mae137,451−16,8553,22199%Washington D.C.7,3001Finance
9Ford Motor136,26420,21319091%Dearborn, MI164,00050Auto
10Hewlett-Packard127,2457,07410880%Palo Alto, CA350,61043Computers

Energy, transportation, and telecommunications[edit]

The Port of Houston, one of the largest ports in the United States.

The United States is the second largest energy consumer in total use.[208] The U.S. ranks seventh in energy consumption per-capita after Canada and a number of other countries.[209][210] The majority of this energy is derived from fossil fuels: in 2005, it was estimated that 40% of the nation's energy came from petroleum, 23% from coal, and 23% from natural gas. Nuclear power supplied 8.4% and renewable energy supplied 6.8%, which was mainly from hydroelectric dams although other renewables are included.[211]

American dependence on oil imports grew from 24% in 1970 to 65% by the end of 2005. At that rate of unchecked import growth, the US would have been 70% to 75% reliant on foreign oil by about 2015.[212] Transportation has the highest consumption rates, accounting for approximately 68.9% of the oil used in the United States in 2006,[213] and 55% of oil use worldwide as documented in the Hirsch report.

In 2013, the United States imported 2,808 million barrels of crude oil, compared to 3,377 million barrels in 2010.[214] While the U.S. is the largest importer of fuel, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that the country was about to become a net fuel exporter for the first time in 62 years. The paper reported expectations that this would continue until 2020.[215] In fact, petroleum was the major export from the country in 2011.[216]

Internet was developed in the U.S. and the country hosts many of the world's largest hubs.


The New York Stock Exchange is the largest stock exchange in the world.
Further information: List of largest banks

Measured by value of its listed companies' securities, the New York Stock Exchange is more than three times larger than any other stock exchange in the world.[217] As of October 2008, the combined capitalization of all domestic NYSE listed companies was US$10.1 trillion.[218] NASDAQ is another American stock exchange and the world's 3rd largest exchange after the New York Stock Exchange and Japan's Tokyo Stock Exchange. However NASDAQ's trade value is larger than Japan's TSE.[217] NASDAQ is the largest electronic screen-based equity securities trading market in the U.S. With approximately 3,800 companies and corporations, it has more trading volume per hour than any other stock exchange.[219]

The U.S. finance industry comprised only 10% of total non-farm business profits in 1947, but it grew to 50% by 2010. Over the same period, finance industry income as a proportion of GDP rose from 2.5% to 7.5%, and the finance industry's proportion of all corporate income rose from 10% to 20%. The mean earnings per employee hour in finance relative to all other sectors has closely mirrored the share of total U.S. income earned by the top 1% income earners since 1930. The mean salary in New York City's finance industry rose from $80,000 in 1981 to $360,000 in 2011, while average New York City salaries rose from $40,000 to $70,000. In 1988, there were about 12,500 U.S. banks with less than $300 million in deposits, and about 900 with more deposits, but by 2012, there were only 4,200 banks with less than $300 million in deposits in the U.S., and over 1,800 with more.

Top ten U.S. banks by assets

RankBankAssets $ millions 12/31/12Profit $ millions 2012HeadquartersEmployees
1JP Morgan Chase[220]2,359,00021,280New York, NY258,965
2Bank of America[220]2,209,0004,188Charlotte, NC276,600
3Citigroup[221]1,865,0007,415New York, NY259,000
4Wells Fargo[220]1,422,00018,890San Francisco, CA265,000
5Goldman Sachs[222]923,2207,475New York, NY57,726
6Morgan Stanley[223]749,890−117[224]New York, NY57,726
7U.S. Bancorp[225]353,0005,600Minneapolis, MN62,529
8Bank of NY Mellon[221]359,3012,569New York, NY48,700
9HSBC North American Holdings[221]318,801N/ANew York, NY43,000
10Capital One Financial[221]286,6023,517Tysons Corner, VA35,593

Health care[edit]

Life expectancy compared to healthcare spending from 1970 to 2008, in the US and the next 19 most wealthy countries by total GDP.[226]

Many distinct organizations provide health care in the US. Facilities are largely owned and operated by private sector businesses. Health insurance for public sector employees is primarily provided by the government. 60–65% of healthcare provision and spending comes from programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and the Veterans Health Administration. Most of the population under 65 is insured by their or a family member's employer, some buy health insurance on their own, and the remainder are uninsured. On March 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) became law, providing for major changes in health insurance.

Of 17 high-income countries studied by the National Institutes of Health in 2013, the United States was at or near the bottom in infant mortality, heart and lung disease, sexually transmitted infections, adolescent pregnancies, injuries, homicides, and rates of disability. Together, such issues place the U.S. at the bottom of the list for life expectancy. On average, a U.S. male can be expected to live almost four fewer years than those in the top-ranked country.[227]

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States spent more on health care per capita ($7,146), and more on health care as percentage of its GDP (15.2%), than any other nation in 2008. The Commonwealth Fund ranked the United States last in the quality of health care among similar countries, and notes U.S. care costs the most.

A 2004 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report said: "The United States is among the few industrialized nations in the world that does not guarantee access to health care for its population." A 2004 OECD report said: "With the exception of Mexico, Turkey, and the United States, all OECD countries had achieved universal or near-universal (at least 98.4% insured) coverage of their populations by 1990."

In 2008, the US spent more on health care per capita ($7,146), and as percentage of GDP (15.2%), than any other nation. In 2013, life expectancy was less than 17 other high-income countries.[227] In 2010, 49.9 million residents or 16.3% of the population did not carry health insurance, the lack of which causes roughly 48,000 unnecessary deaths per year.[228]

In 2007, 62.1% of filers for bankruptcy blamed medical expenses. About 25% of all senior citizens declare bankruptcy due to medical expenses, and 43% are forced to mortgage or sell their primary residence.[229]

International trade[edit]

United States Export Treemap by Product (2012) from Harvard Atlas of Economic Complexity

The United States is the world's second largest trading nation.[230] There is a large amount of U.S. dollars in circulation all around the planet; about 60% of funds used in international trade are U.S. dollars. The dollar is also used as the standard unit of currency in international markets for commodities such as gold and petroleum.

In 2013, U.S. exports amounted to $2.27 trillion and imports amounted to $2.74 trillion. Trade deficit was $450.3 billion.[9] The deficit on petroleum products was $232 billion. The trade deficit with China was $318 billion in 2013,[231] a new record and up from $304 million in 1983.[232]

U.S. Trade in Goods and Services 1960–2010.

The United States had a $231 billion surplus on trade in services, and $703 billion deficit on trade in goods in 2013.[9] China has expanded its foreign exchange reserves, which included $1.6 trillion of U.S. securities as of 2009.[233] In 2010, the ten largest trading partners of the U.S. were Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, South Korea, France, Taiwan, and Brazil.

According to the KOF Index of Globalization and the Globalization Index by A.T. Kearney/Foreign Policy Magazine, the U.S. has a relatively high degree of globalization. U.S. workers send a third of all remittances in the world.[234]

Currency and central bank[edit]

United States historical inflation rate, 1666–2004.

The United States dollar is the unit of currency of the United States. The U.S. dollar is the currency most used in international transactions.[235] Several countries use it as their official currency, and in many others it is the de facto currency.[236]

The federal government attempts to use both monetary policy (control of the money supply through mechanisms such as changes in interest rates) and fiscal policy (taxes and spending) to maintain low inflation, high economic growth, and low unemployment. A private central bank, known as the Federal Reserve, was formed in 1913 to supposedly provide a stable currency and monetary policy. The U.S. dollar has been regarded as one of the more stable currencies in the world and many nations back their own currency with U.S. dollar reserves.

The U.S. dollar has maintained its position as the world's primary reserve currency, although it is gradually being challenged in that role.[237] Almost two-thirds of currency reserves held around the world are held in US dollars, compared to around 25% for the next most popular currency, the Euro.[238] Rising US national debt and quantitative easing has caused some to predict that the US Dollar will lose its status as the world's reserve currency, however these predictions have not come to fruition.[239]

Law and government[edit]

Revenue and Expense as % GDP.
Deficit and debt increases 2001–2012.

The United States ranked 4th in the Ease of Doing Business Index in 2012, 18th in the Economic Freedom of the World index by the Fraser Institute in 2012, 10th in the Index of Economic Freedom by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation in 2012, and 19th in the 2010 Global Enabling Trade Report.

According to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, released by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation, the US has dropped out of the top 10 most economically free countries. The US has been on a steady 7 year economic freedom decline and is the only country to do so.[240] The index measures each nation's commitment to free enterprise on a scale of 0 to 100. Countries losing economic freedom and receiving low index scores are at risk of economic stagnation, high unemployment rates, and diminishing social conditions.[241][242] The 2014 Index of Economic Freedom gave the United States a score of 75.5 and is listed as the 12th freest economy in world. It dropped two rankings and its score is half a point lower than in 2013. The US is ranked the 2nd freest economy out of the three countries in the North America region.[240]


The U.S. federal government regulates private enterprise in numerous ways. Regulation falls into two general categories.

Some efforts seek, either directly or indirectly, to control prices. Traditionally, the government has sought to create state-regulated monopolies such as electric utilities from while allowing prices in the level that would ensure them normal profits. At times, the government has extended economic control to other kinds of industries as well. In the years following the Great Depression, it devised a complex system to stabilize prices for agricultural goods, which tend to fluctuate wildly in response to rapidly changing supply and demand. A number of other industries—trucking and, later, airlines—successfully sought regulation themselves to limit what they considered as harmful price-cutting, a process called regulatory capture.[243]

Another form of economic regulation, antitrust law, seeks to strengthen market forces so that direct regulation is unnecessary. The government—and, sometimes, private parties—have used antitrust law to prohibit practices or mergers that would unduly limit competition.[243]

Bank regulation in the United States is highly fragmented compared to other G10 countries where most countries have only one bank regulator. In the U.S., banking is regulated at both the federal and state level. The U.S. also has one of the most highly regulated banking environments in the world; however, many of the regulations are not safety and soundness related, but are instead focused on privacy, disclosure, fraud prevention, anti-money laundering, anti-terrorism, anti-usury lending, and promoting lending to lower-income segments.[citation needed]

Since the 1970s, government has also exercised control over private companies to achieve social goals, such as improving the public's health and safety or maintaining a healthy environment. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides and enforces standards for workplace safety, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency provides standards and regulations to maintain air, water, and land resources. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates what drugs may reach the market, and also provides standards of disclosure for food products.[243]

American attitudes about regulation changed substantially during the final three decades of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1970s, policy makers grew increasingly convinced that economic regulation protected companies at the expense of consumers in industries such as airlines and trucking. At the same time, technological changes spawned new competitors in some industries, such as telecommunications, that once were considered natural monopolies. Both developments led to a succession of laws easing regulation.[243]

Historical federal marginal tax rates for income for the lowest and highest income earners in the US.[244]

While leaders of America's two most influential political parties generally favored economic deregulation during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, there was less agreement concerning regulations designed to achieve social goals. Social regulation had assumed growing importance in the years following the Depression and World War II, and again in the 1960s and 1970s. During the 1980s, the government relaxed labor, consumer and environmental rules based on the idea that such regulation interfered with free enterprise, increased the costs of doing business, and thus contributed to inflation. The response to such changes is mixed; many Americans continued to voice concerns about specific events or trends, prompting the government to issue new regulations in some areas, including environmental protection.[243]

Where legislative channels have been unresponsive, some citizens have turned to the courts to address social issues more quickly. For instance, in the 1990s, individuals, and eventually the government itself, sued tobacco companies over the health risks of cigarette smoking. The 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement provided states with long-term payments to cover medical costs to treat smoking-related illnesses.[243]

The U.S. federal effective corporate tax rate has become much lower than the nominal rate because of the widespread use of tax shelters[245] and tax havens.[246]

Between 2000 and 2008, economic regulation in the United States saw the most rapid expansion since the early 1970s.[247] The number of new pages in the Federal Registry, a proxy for economic regulation, rose from 64,438 new pages in 2001 to 78,090 in new pages in 2007, a record amount of regulation.[247] Economically significant regulations, defined as regulations which cost more than $100 million a year, increased by 70%.[247] Spending on regulation increased by 62% from $26.4 billion to $42.7 billion.[247]


Taxation in the United States is a complex system which may involve payment to at least four different levels of government and many methods of taxation. Taxes are levied by the federal government, by the state governments, and often by local governments, which may include counties, municipalities, township, school districts, and other special-purpose districts, which include fire, utility, and transit districts.

The average tax rate percentages for the highest-income U.S. taxpayers, 1945–2009.

Forms of taxation include taxes on income, property, sales, imports, payroll, estates and gifts, as well as various fees. When taxation by all government levels taken into consideration, the total taxation as percentage of GDP was approximately a quarter of GDP in 2011.[248] Share of black market in the U.S. economy is very low compared to other countries.[249]

Although a federal wealth tax is prohibited by the United States Constitution unless the receipts are distributed to the States by their populations, state and local government property tax amount to a wealth tax on real estate, and because capital gains are taxed on nominal instead of inflation-adjusted profits, the capital gains tax amounts to a wealth tax on the inflation rate.[250] Both liberals and conservatives have called for more progressive taxes in the U.S.[250][251] US Big Corporations often adopt the tax avoidance measure for the lobbyist appeal of "tax efficiency" and "creating more jobs from the private sector".[252]


Development of US federal government debt ceiling from 1990 to January 2012.[253]
Fiscal Year 2012 U.S. Federal Spending – Cash or Budget Basis
Fiscal Year 2012 U.S. Federal Receipts

The United States public-sector spending amounts to about one-third of the GDP.

Each level of government provides many direct services. The federal government, for example, is responsible for national defense, backs research that often leads to the development of new products, conducts space exploration, and runs numerous programs designed to help workers develop workplace skills and find jobs (including higher education). Government spending has a significant effect on local and regional economies—and even on the overall pace of economic activity.[citation needed]

State governments, meanwhile, are responsible for the construction and maintenance of most highways. State, county, or city governments play the leading role in financing and operating public schools. Local governments are primarily responsible for police and fire protection.[citation needed]

The welfare system in the United States began in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. After the Great Society legislation of the 1960s, for the first time "a poor person who was neither elderly nor crippled could eke out a livelihood from the state".[254]

Overall, federal, state, and local spending accounted for almost 28% of gross domestic product in 1998.[255]

As of January 20, 2009, the total U.S. federal debt was $10.627 trillion.[256] The borrowing-cap debt ceiling as of 2005 stood at $8.18 trillion.[257] In March 2006, Congress raised that ceiling an additional $0.79 trillion to $8.97 trillion, which is approximately 68% of GDP.[258] Congress has used this method to deal with an encroaching debt ceiling in previous years, as the federal borrowing limit was raised in 2002 and 2003.[259] As of October 4, 2008, the "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008" raised the current debt ceiling to US$ 11.3 trillion.[260]

The federal government's debt rose by $680 billion in 2013,[16] and now stands at $17.091 trillion.[14] While the U.S. public debt is the world's largest in absolute size, another measure is its size relative to the nation's GDP. As of October 2013 the debt was 107.0% of GDP.[261] This debt, as a percent of GDP, is still less than the debt of Japan (192%) (the overwhelming number of owners of JGBs are Japanese)[262] and roughly equivalent to those of a few western European nations.[263]

2012 Fiscal Year Budget[edit]

In Fiscal Year 2012, the U.S. federal government ran a budget deficit of $1.09 trillion.[264] The U.S. federal public debt was $17.07 trillion (107% of GDP) as of October 26, 2013.[265]

Fiscal revenue fiscal year 2012 (Total Receipts)

Revenue by SourceRevenue $ billions 2012 fiscal yearPercent of revenue
Individual income taxes1,165  47.19%
Social Security receipts  841  34.06%
Corporate taxes  237    9.60%
Misc. taxes  105    4.25%
Excise taxes    79    3.20%
Customs and duties    31    1.26%
Estate and gift taxes    11    0.44%
Revenue total2,469100.00%

Fiscal expenses fiscal year 2011[264]

Expenses by departmentExpenses $ millions 2011 fiscal yearPercent of expenses
Health and Human Services891,24424.76%
Social Security Administration784,19421.79%
Veterans Affairs126,9173.53%
Office of Personnel Management74,0912.06%
Housing and Urban Development57,0051.58%
Other Defense Civil Programs54,8621.52%
Homeland Security45,7441.27%
International Assistance Programs24,3550.68%
National Aeronautics and Space Administration17,6170.49%
Other independent agencies14,4960.40%
Environmental Protection Agency10,7700.30%
Corps of Engineers10,1380.28%
National Science Foundation7,1460.20%
Small Business Administration6,1620.17%
General Services Administration1,8890.05%
Expense total3,599,285100%

See also[edit]



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