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A visualization of what America buys

Posted at 6:28 PM, Apr 05, 2012
and last updated 2012-04-05 18:58:20-04

There might be a national spending slump and unemployment has been high since 2008, but regardless, people spend money.

How do Americans spend their money? And how has that changed over time?

The value of the dollar certainly has changed over time. What was $5 in 1949, would have the same buying power as $47.83 today.

NPR journalists Lam Thuy Vo and Jacob Goldstein delved into the dollars data and created some neat visualization around the numbers, of how what we buy and how that has shifted.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

As mentioned by NPR, the Atlantic also recently looked at the changes in consumer spending over the past several decades. They explained some of the significant shifts:

Across the economy we can see that items that require fewer and fewer American workers per completion (think: socks) get cheaper, while services that can’t find similar ways to replace American workers (think: health care … ) don’t get cheaper at all. In fact, they often get more expensive.

This isn’t bad news, necessarily. A rich economy that needs fewer people to make things can put those people to work doing other important things. We should want workers to move into new industries that serve our needs. But too many workers serving a need leads in one direction for prices: Up.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The CPI represents all goods and services purchased for consumption by the reference population (U or W) BLS has classified all expenditure items into more than 200 categories, arranged into eight major groups. Major groups and examples of categories in each are as follows:

  • FOOD AND BEVERAGES (breakfast cereal, milk, coffee, chicken, wine, full service meals, snacks)
  • HOUSING (rent of primary residence, owners’ equivalent rent, fuel oil, bedroom furniture)
  • APPAREL (men’s shirts and sweaters, women’s dresses, jewelry)
  • TRANSPORTATION (new vehicles, airline fares, gasoline, motor vehicle insurance)
  • MEDICAL CARE (prescription drugs and medical supplies, physicians’ services, eyeglasses and eye care, hospital services)
  • RECREATION (televisions, toys, pets and pet products, sports equipment, admissions);
  • EDUCATION AND COMMUNICATION (college tuition, postage, telephone services, computer software and accessories);
  • OTHER GOODS AND SERVICES (tobacco and smoking products, haircuts and other personal services, funeral expenses).

Also included within these major groups are various government-charged user fees, such as water and sewerage charges, auto registration fees, and vehicle tolls. In addition, the CPI includes taxes (such as sales and excise taxes) that are directly associated with the prices of specific goods and services. However, the CPI excludes taxes (such as income and Social Security taxes) not directly associated with the purchase of consumer goods and services.

The CPI does not include investment items, such as stocks, bonds, real estate, and life insurance. (These items relate to savings and not to day-to-day consumption expenses.)

For each of the more than 200 item categories, using scientific statistical procedures, the Bureau has chosen samples of several hundred specific items within selected business establishments frequented by consumers to represent the thousands of varieties available in the marketplace. For example, in a given supermarket, the Bureau may choose a plastic bag of golden delicious apples, U.S. extra fancy grade, weighing 4.4 pounds to represent the Apples category.

To read the NPR article, click here: