Infographic of the Week: Evolution of the U.S. Economy Since WWII

How has the U.S. economy changed in the past fifty years? At the Atlantic you can see several answers contained in a single graph, which shows the percentage of total GDP created by each American industry from 1947 to 2009.

If you’ve read any big-picture article about how the American economy has evolved in the last 50 years, you’re probably already aware of the following points. But I love how a graph like this can communicate all these stories so succinctly:

  • Manufacturing and agriculture steadily shrank. While manufacturing and agriculture together accounted for a third of U.S. GDP in 1947, they now account for 12%. Maybe someone should inform Obama, who proclaimed during the State of the Union address that, “a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last… begins with American manufacturing.” Whether we like it or not, our competitive advantage no longer lies in producing goods – we’ve moved into a post-industrial economy.
  • The service sector steadily grew. While the share of workers in accommodation and food services didn’t change much, the portion in professional/business services and education/health care/social services grew significantly over the past half-century. This is the knowledge and service economy we keep hearing so much about.
  • The financial sector exploded. Since the 2008 crash, an increasing number of critics have questioned whether the financial sector has become too large. When one-fifth of our economy is devoted to moving and securing money and property, rather than producing things or providing  tangible services, it’s a sign we might be in trouble.
  • Government is pretty much the same size it was fifty years ago. Despite conservative claims that our government has become a massive monster weighing down the rest of the economy, government’s share of GDP has changed little since the mid-20th century.

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