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Visualizing 30 Years of Imports from U.S. Trading Partners

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30 Years of Imports by Top U.S. Trading Partners

By the second quarter of 2023, the U.S. import bill had hit nearly $2 trillion.

But which countries are the top U.S. trading partners, and what do they ship to the largest economy in the world?

We use data as of July 2023 from the U.S. Census Bureau to create the chart above, showing America’s largest trading partners and how they’ve changed since 1989.

Ranked: U.S. Trading Partners by Imports (2023)

Through the first half of 2023, the EU was the biggest source of U.S. imports, accounting for nearly one-fifth of all goods and services imported into the country.

An interesting observation of this trade relationship is that the United States’ physical imports from (and exports to) the EU are essentially the same traded goods categories (medicines, machinery, and transportation equipment).

This is a representation of a phenomenon where richer countries tend to trade the same goods with each other, despite having the ability to manufacture domestically. The simple explanation behind this: consumers benefit from having more choice, and companies benefit from specialization and economies of scale.

Here are the major sources of U.S. imports in 2023 (through July), ranked below:

RankCountry/Trade EntityU.S. Import Share (2023)
1🇪🇺 EU18.6%
2🇲🇽 Mexico15.2%
3🇨🇦 Canada13.5%
4🇨🇳 China13.2%
5🇯🇵 Japan4.6%
6🇰🇷 South Korea3.7%
7🇻🇳 Vietnam3.5%
8🇮🇳 India2.7%
9🇹🇼 Taiwan2.7%
10🇹🇭 Thailand1.8%

The U.S. sources nearly one-third of all imports from second and third-biggest trading partners, neighbors Mexico (15.2%) and Canada (13.5%).

All three countries are part of USMCA (the new trade agreement replacing NAFTA), facilitating trilateral trade, and resulting in curious import and export patterns. For example, the U.S. imports oil from Canada, but exports oil to Mexico. Meanwhile, it imports transportation equipment from Mexico, and exports it to Canada.

China (13.2%) and Japan (4.6%) round out the top five import trade partners. Both countries have also been the biggest sources of U.S. imports in the past, China as recently as 2022, while Japan way further back in 1989.

RankCountry/Trade EntityU.S. Import Share (1989)
1🇯🇵 Japan19.8%
2🇨🇦 Canada18.6%
3🇲🇽 Mexico5.7%
4🇹🇼 Taiwan5.1%
5🇰🇷 South Korea4.2%
6🇨🇳 China2.5%
7🇹🇭 Thailand0.9%
8🇮🇳 India0.7%
9🇻🇳 Vietnam0.0%

Note: The EU was formally established in 1993.

Meanwhile, since the 2010s, countries in South and Southeast Asia have taken up a larger share of U.S. imports, filling out the bottom half of the top 10, reflecting shifting bases of global manufacturing.

U.S. Trade Deficits

The U.S. imports more than it exports to all its top trade partners, and as a result had a total trade deficit of nearly $700 billion by the second quarter of 2023. This is not out of pocket—the country has logged an annual trade deficit for much of its history post-WWII.

RankCountry/Trade EntityDeficit ($ Billions)
1🇨🇳 China-$181.8
2🇪🇺 EU-$139.3
3🇲🇽 Mexico-$100.7
4🇻🇳 Vietnam-$66.7
5🇯🇵 Japan-$45.8
6🇨🇦 Canada-$42.4
7🇰🇷 South Korea-$34.7
8🇹🇼 Taiwan-$29.9
9🇮🇳 India-$28.8
10🇹🇭 Thailand-$26.7

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign-Trade Balance (EU), Foreign Trade Statistics (Top 10).

Economists argue that this deficit is a reflection of the low saving rate in the economy, where demand for goods is driven by borrowing. At the same time this allows the country to maintain robust economic growth that it perhaps would not have achieved with a higher saving rate.

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Real Estate

Charted: U.S. Median House Prices vs. Income

We chart the ever-widening gap between median incomes and the median price of houses in America, using data from the Federal Reserve from 1984 to 2022.

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A cropped chart with the ever-widening gap between median house prices vs. income in America, using data from the Federal Reserve from 1984 to 2022.

Houses in America Now Cost Six Times the Median Income

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

As of 2023, an American household hoping to buy a median-priced home, needs to make at least $100,000 a year. In some cities, they need to make nearly 3–4x that amount.

The median household income in the country is currently well below that $100,000 threshold. To look at the trends between median incomes and median house prices through the years, we charted their movement using the following datasets data from the Federal Reserve:

Importantly this graphic does not make allowances for actual household disposable income, nor how monthly mortgage payments change depending on the interest rates at the time. Finally, both datasets are in current U.S. dollars, meaning they are not adjusted for inflation.

Timeline: Median House Prices vs. Income in America

In 1984, the median annual income for an American household stood at $22,420, and the median house sales price for the first quarter of the year came in at $78,200. The house sales price-to-income ratio stood at 3.49.

By pure arithmetic, this is the most affordable houses have been in the U.S. since the Federal Reserve began tracking this data, as seen in the table below.

A hidden caveat of course, was inflation: running rampant towards the end of the 70s and the start of the 80s. While it fell significantly in the next five years, in 1984 the 30-year fixed rate was close to 14%, meaning a significant chunk of household income went to interest payments.

DateMedian House
Sales Price
Median Household
Income
Price-to-Income Ratio
1984-01-01$78,200$22,4203.49
1985-01-01$82,800$23,6203.51
1986-01-01$88,000$24,9003.53
1987-01-01$97,900$26,0603.76
1988-01-01$110,000$27,2304.04
1989-01-01$118,000$28,9104.08
1990-01-01$123,900$29,9404.14
1991-01-01$120,000$30,1303.98
1992-01-01$119,500$30,6403.90
1993-01-01$125,000$31,2404.00
1994-01-01$130,000$32,2604.03
1995-01-01$130,000$34,0803.81
1996-01-01$137,000$35,4903.86
1997-01-01$145,000$37,0103.92
1998-01-01$152,200$38,8903.91
1999-01-01$157,400$40,7003.87
2000-01-01$165,300$41,9903.94
2001-01-01$169,800$42,2304.02
2002-01-01$188,700$42,4104.45
2003-01-01$186,000$43,3204.29
2004-01-01$212,700$44,3304.80
2005-01-01$232,500$46,3305.02
2006-01-01$247,700$48,2005.14
2007-01-01$257,400$50,2305.12
2008-01-01$233,900$50,3004.65
2009-01-01$208,400$49,7804.19
2010-01-01$222,900$49,2804.52
2011-01-01$226,900$50,0504.53
2012-01-01$238,400$51,0204.67
2013-01-01$258,400$53,5904.82
2014-01-01$275,200$53,6605.13
2015-01-01$289,200$56,5205.12
2016-01-01$299,800$59,0405.08
2017-01-01$313,100$61,1405.12
2018-01-01$331,800$63,1805.25
2019-01-01$313,000$68,7004.56
2020-01-01$329,000$68,0104.84
2021-01-01$369,800$70,7805.22
2022-01-01$433,100$74,5805.81

Note: The median house sale price listed in this table and in the chart is from the first quarter of each year. As a result the ratio can vary between quarters of each year.

The mid-2000s witnessed an explosive surge in home prices, eventually culminating in a housing bubble and subsequent crash—an influential factor in the 2008 recession. Subprime mortgages played a pivotal role in this scenario, as they were issued to buyers with poor credit and then bundled into seemingly more attractive securities for financial institutions. However, these loans eventually faltered as economic circumstances changed.

In response to the recession and to stimulate economic demand, the Federal Reserve reduced interest rates, consequently lowering mortgage rates.

While this measure aimed to make homeownership more accessible, it also contributed to a significant increase in housing prices in the following years. Additionally, a new generation entering the home-buying market heightened demand. Simultaneously, a scarcity of new construction and a surge in investors and corporations converting housing units into rental properties led to a shortage in supply, exerting upward pressure on prices.

As a result, median house prices are now nearly 6x the median household income in America.

How Does Unaffordable Housing Affect the U.S. Economy?

When housing costs exceed a significant portion of household income, families are forced to cut back on other essential expenditures, dampening consumer spending. Given how expanding housing supply helped drive U.S. economic growth in the 20th century, the current constraints in the country are especially ironic.

Unaffordable housing also stifles mobility, as individuals may be reluctant to relocate for better job opportunities due to housing constraints. On the flip side, many cities are seeing severe labor shortages as many lower-wage workers simply cannot afford to live in the city. Both phenomena affect market efficiency and productivity growth.

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