Every year, the U.S. government spends trillions of dollars on a wide range of budgetary items.
While the largest categories of spending, such as entitlement programs or debt interest, do not offer lawmakers a lot of flexibility, the government does get to decide how discretionary spending – about $1.3 trillion in FY2019 – gets put to use.
Discretionary Spending Over Time
Today’s animation from data scientist Will Geary shows the evolution of U.S. discretionary spending from 1963 until today:
The U.S. budget is generally divided into three main categories:
Discretionary Spending: This category, depicted in the animation, is the optional part of the budgetary equation – it’s the aspect that most people talk about, as the allocation of funding towards different things like defense, education, and transportation can be changed by lawmakers.
Mandatory Spending: Also known as entitlement spending, this category includes funding for programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It’s called mandatory spending because the government legally is committed to fulfilling these obligations, and it exists outside of the normal budget appropriations process.
Net Interest: This category is for payments on the national debt, also something that is necessary unless the country is willing to default on these obligations.
Discretionary Spending Today
As the animation shows, after adjusting for inflation (using 2009 dollars), discretionary spending has doubled since 1963.
In 1963, which was essentially the height of the Cold War, the U.S. was spending 73% on the military to make up the vast majority of the $547 billion (2009 dollars) in discretionary spending.
Meanwhile, in Fiscal Year 2019, the government has allocated $1.3 trillion (today’s dollars) to the budget:
Things haven’t changed much since 1963 in that defense still comprises the majority of spending – in fact, the only recent time periods where U.S. defense spending fell below 50% were roughly between 1977-1981 and 1999-2004.
American spending on defense dwarfs all other countries, but there are other categories that make up decent chunks of the discretionary budget as well.
While they seem small on the above chart, transportation (7%), education (7%), and veteran benefits (6%) are all actually categories that receive over $70 billion of annual funding – still a significant piece of change.
Which Generation Has the Most Influence Over U.S. Politics?
Visual Capitalist’s inaugural Generational Power Index (GPI) examines the political power held by each generation and their influence on society.
Measuring Influence in U.S. Politics, by Generation
Generations are a widely recognized and discussed concept, and it’s assumed people all understand what they refer to. But the true extent of each generation’s clout has remained undetermined—until now.
In our inaugural Generational Power Index (GPI) 2021, we examine the power and influence each generation currently holds on American society, and its potential to evolve in the future.
Political power by generation was one of three key categories we used to quantify the current landscape. Before we dive into the results, here’s how the Political Power category was calculated.
Measuring Generational Power
To begin with, here’s how we categorized each generation:
|Generation||Age range (years)||Birth year range|
|The Silent Generation||76 and over||1928-1945|
|Gen Alpha||8 and below||2013-present|
Using these age groups as a framework, we then calculated the Political Power category using these distinct equally-weighted variables:
With this methodology in mind, here’s how the Political Power category shakes out, using insights from the GPI.
Share of Political Power by Generation
Baby Boomers dominated with over 47% of the total political power by generation. This cohort has particular strength in the judicial system and in Congress.
|Generation||Political Power Share|
Baby Boomers, along with the Silent Generation also control 80% of political spending. Meanwhile, Gen X accounts for nearly half (46%) of local government positions.
Both voters and politicians play key roles in shaping American society. Thus, two variables worth looking closer at are the evolving electoral base and the composition of Congress.
The Changing Face of the U.S. Voter
Younger generations have very different perceptions on everything from cannabis to climate change. This is starting to be reflected in legislation.
2016 was a watershed moment for politicians vying for the vote—it was the last election in which Baby Boomers made up over a third of U.S. voters. Collectively, Boomers’ voting power will decline from here on out.
Within the next two decades, the combined voting power of Millennials and Gen Z will skyrocket from 32% in 2020 up to 55% by 2036.
Meanwhile, a decade from now, the oldest members of Gen Alpha (those born in 2013 and later) will enter the playing field and become eligible to vote in 2031.
The View from the Top
Having examined generational power in the electorate, we now turn our attention to the people on the other side of the democratic equation—the politicians.
In most cases, it takes many decades of experience and reputation building to reach the highest offices in the land. That’s why the median age of Congress (61.2) is much higher than the median age of the U.S. population at large (38.1).
At this point in time, Baby Boomers are in the sweet spot, and it shows in the numbers. Boomers represent 298 of 532 Congressional seats (56% of all seats), and Gen X’s growing contingent of members represents 31%.
On one end of the spectrum, the Silent Generation still occupies 7% of seats, which roughly reflects the group’s share of the U.S. population. California’s Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican Don Young are both 87 years old, the latter having represented Alaska for 25 terms.
On the other end of the spectrum, Millennials currently claim 32 seats, just 6% of the total. As of 2021, this entire cohort now meets the minimum age requirement (25) to serve in the House of Representatives. The youngest member of Congress is Republican Madison Cawthorn, a representative for North Carolina at just 25 years old. Meanwhile, Senator Jon Ossoff is the youngest Senator in the country, serving Georgia at 36 years old.
This difference in political power by generation is stark considering that both Boomers and Millennials both make up similar proportions of the U.S. population at large. In that sense, Millennials are greatly underrepresented in Congress compared to Boomers.
Gen Z Waiting Patiently in the Wings
Gen Z’s current age range is a natural reason why they don’t yet have a foothold in government. But by 2022, the oldest members of Gen Z will turn 25, meeting the minimum age requirement to get elected into the House of Representatives.
With the oldest members of this generation soon turning 25, how long will it be before a representative from Gen Z occupies a seat in the Capitol Building?
Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)
Visualizing Biden’s $1.52 Trillion Budget Proposal for 2022
A breakdown of President Biden’s budget proposal for 2022. Climate change initiatives, cybersecurity, and additional social programs are key areas of focus.
Visualizing Biden’s Budget Proposal for 2022
On April 9th, President Joe Biden released his first budget proposal plan for the 2022 fiscal year.
The $1.52 trillion discretionary budget proposes boosts in funding that would help combat climate change, support disease control, and subsidize social programs.
This graphic outlines some key takeaways from Biden’s budget proposal plan and highlights how funds could be allocated in the next fiscal year.
U.S. Federal Budget 101
Before diving into the proposal’s key takeaways, it’s worth taking a step back to cover the basics around the U.S. federal budget process, for those who aren’t familiar.
Each year, the president of the U.S. is required to present a federal budget proposal to Congress. It’s usually submitted each February, but this year’s proposal has been delayed due to alleged issues with the previous administration during the handover of office.
Biden’s publicized budget only includes discretionary spending for now—a full budget that includes mandatory spending is expected to be released in the next few months.
Key Takeaways From Biden’s Budget Proposal
Overall, Biden’s proposed budget would increase funds for a majority of cabinet departments. This is a drastic pivot from last year’s proposal, which was focused on budget cuts.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest departmental changes, and their proposed spending for 2022:
|Department||2022 Proposed Spending (Billions)||% Change from 2021|
|Health and Human Services||$131.7||24%|
|Environmental Protection Agency||$11.2||21%|
|Housing and Urban Development||$68.7||15%|
|State and International Aid||$63.5||12%|
|Small Business Administration||$0.9||9%|
One of the biggest boosts in spending is for education. The proposed $29.8 billion would be a 41% increase from 2021. The extra funds would support students in high-poverty schools, as well as children with disabilities.
Health and human services is also a top priority in Biden’s budget, perhaps unsurprisingly given the global pandemic. But the boost in funds extends beyond disease control. Biden’s budget allocates $1.6 billion towards mental health grants and $10.7 billion to help stop the opioid crisis.
There are increases across all major budget categories, but defense will see the smallest increase from 2021 spending, at 2%. It’s worth noting that defense is also the biggest budget category by far, and with a total of $715 billion allocated, the budget lists deterring threats from China and Russia as a major goal.
Which Bills Will Make it Through?
It’s important to reiterate that this plan is just a proposal. Each bill needs to get passed through Congress before it becomes official.
Considering the slim majority held by Democrats, it’s unlikely that Biden’s budget will make it through Congress without any changes. Over the next few months, it’ll be interesting to see what makes it through the wringer.
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