Per Capita GDP Contracts in 1st Quarter

April 29, 2016

Recessions are determined by two consecutive quarters of contraction in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, or “GDP.”  But what if the GDP grows, but more slowly than the growth in the population?  In that case, your share of the economy has shrunk, as it has for every American, and it’ll feel like a real recession to you.  So that’s how recessions should really be defined – in terms of per capita GDP.

By that measure, the next recession may very well already be underway.  Though GDP grew in the first quarter, though by a paltry 0.5% (as announced yesterday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis), per capita GDP actually contracted by 0.2%, thanks to the population growing at an annual rate of 0.8% in the same time period.

This is the 2nd time in four quarters that per capita GDP declined.  It happened in the same 1st quarter time period last year, falling by 0.2%.  The difference is that last year the economy was already beginning to rebound by the end of the first quarter as we emerged from an extremely harsh winter.  This year, the economy stalled in spite of relatively mild weather and, with the first month of the 2nd quarter already behind us, the economic slowdown appears to be intensifying.

This stagnating of the economy isn’t just a one or two-year phenomenon.  It’s been developing for a long time now.  During the 8-year period beginning with the 1st quarter of 2008 (just before the onset of the “Great Recession”), per capita GDP grew at an annual rate of only 0.5%.  (Check this chart:  Real Per Capita GDP.)  During the 8-year period prior to that (2000-2008), it grew at an annual rate of 1.4%.  And during the 8-year period prior to that (1992-2000), it grew at an annual rate of 3%.  Though the economy continues to grow, albeit ever more slowly, in terms of GDP, per capita GDP has essentially ground to a halt.

This is exactly what the inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption would predict – that eventually over-crowding would erode per capita consumption to a point where per capita GDP would actually begin to contract.  That’s exactly what we see happening now.  Though we continue to lean as heavily as ever on population growth to stoke the economy, that strategy has begun to backfire. We are all becoming worse off as a result.  It’s time for economists to wake up to the fact that this blatantly-flawed economic strategy is doomed to failure – that population growth has become a drag on the economy.

Per Capita GDP in Decline

July 3, 2014

The country is in an uproar over the immigration crisis that Obama’s refusal to enforce the laws has left us in and, at the same time, I find myself with limited time for writing posts.  You can read opinion pieces on the immigration mess anywhere and everywhere right now.  So I though a better use of my time would be to focus on the recent downward revision in GDP (gross domestic product) and use it as an example as to why America’s ridiculously high rate of legal immigration – not to mention Obama’s refusal to enforce the border and deport illegal immigrants – is so bad for the American economy.

The BEA (bureau of economic analysis) last week dramatically lowered its final reading of GDP for the 1st quarter to an annual rate of decline of 2.9%.  The harsh winter took much of the blame.  Adjusted for inflation, GDP still remains higher than it was in the 3rd quarter of 2013.  And it’s risen by nearly a trillion dollars since the 4th quarter of 2007, when the recession first began.

But you shouldn’t care about overall GDP.  What matters is each American’s slice of the pie, or per capita GDP.  When population growth is taken into account, per capita GDP fell to its lowest level since the 2nd quarter of 2013.  And it’s barely budged in the past seven years (going back to the 4th quarter of 2007 again).  Here’s the chart:  Real Per Capita GDP.

Since the end of 2007, per capita GDP has risen by only $317 per person, an annual rate of increase of only 0.09%.  That includes all Americans, and it’s been widely reported that all of the gains are concentrated in the top 1% of Americans.  Take away that top 1%, and per capita GDP has actually declined during the supposed “recovery” that has taken place since the end of the recession.  And that’s in spite of a trillion dollars in stimulus spending by the federal government and four trillion dollars of stimulus provided by the Federal Reserve.  Imagine how bad it’d be if we took away that $5 trillion that has been poured into the economy in the past seven years.

Declining per capita GDP is one of the outcomes predicted by the inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption (which is inextricably linked to per capita employment).  As our population continues to grow beyond its optimal level (thanks entirely to both legal and illegal immigration), it’s inescapable that per capita GDP will decline, even as overall GDP continues to grow slowly.

In other words, immigration is the driving force behind a decline in Americans’ quality of life.  Yet, the deep pockets that fund our politicians continue to advocate for increased immigration and population growth.  They want more consumers to grow their bottom lines.

Real Per Capita GDP Declines at Annual Rate of 5.0% in 4th Qtr.

January 30, 2009
The Commerce Department announced this morning that GDP (Gross Domestic Product), the broadest measure of the health of our economy, declined at an annual rate of 3.8%. But GDP alone doesn’t adequately describe what happened to your share of the economic pie. A better measure is “real per capita GDP,” or GDP divided by the population of the U.S. (By the way, the term “real” means that the data is adjusted for inflation.) Since the population of the U.S. grew in the fourth quarter at an annual rate of 1.2% (adding 850,000 people in the 4th quarter), then real per capita GDP declined at an annual rate of 5.0%, from $38,413 per person in the 3rd quarter of 2008 to $37,936 per person in the fourth quarter. This is also the fourth decline in the last five quarters, a string interrupted by a small rise of 0.45% in the 2nd quarter of last year. Real per capita GDP is now lower than the 2nd quarter of 2007 when it hit $38,157. And no one expects it to do anything but decline further in the coming months.

So the question is whether population growth is helping or hurting the economy. Now even I wouldn’t suggest to you that GDP would have been the same without these additional people. Take away those 850,000 people and the GDP would clearly decline too. Every person contributes something to the overall economic activity. Even if all they buy is food, clothing and housing, no matter how rudimentary (even if they rent instead of buy), they are boosting the GDP by that amount. But if they are boosting it by an amount that’s below average, then they are a net drag on the economy, contributing just as much to the labor pool but consuming below the level needed to gainfully employ them. Well, the fact that the percentage of people falling below the poverty line is increasing is clear evidence that population growth is occurring primarily in the bottom half of wage earners, actually hurting the economy in per capita terms.

It all makes sense if you think about it. As we cram more people into the same amount of space, per capita consumption declines while the per capita contribution to the labor pool remains the same or may even grow. (As the over-supply of labor grows, putting downward pressure on wages, a higher percentage of the population will enter the work force in a bid to keep up the family’s income.) If you don’t understand the relationship between population density and per capita consumption, then you need to read Five Short Blasts.

It’s time for economists to abandon GDP in favor of a more meaningful economic indicator, one that takes the size of the population into account. Even a child can understand that a bag of jelly beans shared with three kids instead of two means fewer jelly beans for himself. Economists need to look not just at the growth in the supply of jelly beans, but also at how many kids are showing up to share them.