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U.S. Trade: Visualizing Share of Imports for Select Countries (1989-2023)

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A chart showing the changing share of U.S. imports of seven key U.S. trade partners from 1989–2023.

U.S. Trade: Sources and Share of American Imports (1989–2023)

Since 1989, the U.S.’ largest trade partner by share of imports has changed four times.

Similarly, the top 10 ranking of importers has seen a shuffle as well, as some countries gain share and eclipse rivals due to favorable trade policies and economic conditions.

We highlight the changing fortunes of seven select countries—past alliances and emerging partnerships—that are major sources of U.S. trade, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Seven Major Sources of U.S. Trade (1989–2023)

Neighbors, allies, former enemies, and rivals make for an all-star cast.

  • Canada, Mexico & NAFTA (now USMCA)

As the U.S.’ closest land neighbors, Canada and Mexico have been amongst the country’s largest trade partners for many years. Along with their geographic proximity, the key North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which took effect in 1994, allowed the free movement of goods across the three countries.

Mexico in particular benefited greatly from NAFTA, and has become the primary source of agricultural products for both the U.S., and Canada. In 2022 the country overtook China to become the U.S.’ largest source of foreign goods and services after the EU, at 15.2% of import share. Both countries together account for one-third of all U.S. inbound trade.

Country198920012023
🇨🇦 Canada18.6%19.0%13.5%
🇨🇳 China2.5%9.0%13.2%
🇮🇳 India0.7%0.9%2.7%
🇯🇵 Japan19.8%11.1%4.6%
🇲🇽 Mexico5.7%11.5%15.2%
🇹🇼 Taiwan5.1%2.9%2.7%
🇻🇳 Vietnam0%0.1%3.5%
  • Japan, and the Lost Decades

Japan’s post-war economic boom reached its zenith by the late 1980s and Asia’s largest economy at the time was also the largest source of U.S. inbound trade, accounting for nearly one-fifth of U.S. imports on its own.

However, by the mid-1990s, the Japanese economy entered a period of stagnation, and along with the signing of NAFTA, which boosted both Canada and Mexico, Japan’s share of U.S. inbound trade started slipping. After 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization, Japan’s share of U.S. imports dropped even further to 4.6% in 2023.

  • China: Challenger to Challenged

China’s rapid export rise in the 2000s singlehandedly defined the country as the world’s manufacturer. Between 2001–2022, Chinese exports to the U.S. grew nearly 1,000% to $600 billion. In 2017 the country was the source of more than one-fifth of all U.S. imports. However, the U.S.-China trade war kicked off by the Trump administration reduced China’s share in U.S. inbound trade (down to 13.2% in 2023) as other economies in South and Southeast Asia have grown to become manufacturing hotspots in the last few years.

Emerging Partnerships Diversify Sources of U.S. Trade

Vietnam in particular has benefited hugely from the U.S. (and other countries) turning away from China. The country prioritized education to turn its large population into a skilled workforce. As a result, Vietnam has jumped up the ranks of the top sources of U.S. imports, coming in 7th in 2023. This is contrasted with not even having trade relations with the U.S. in 1989, a policy remnant from the Vietnam War.

India has also found a niche as a source for gold and jewelry for the United States. With rumors of American companies shifting manufacturing to the 5th largest economy in the world, their share in U.S. imports may only further increase.

Meanwhile, Taiwan which prioritized an export-oriented economy since the 1950s has also been losing share in the U.S.—their biggest export market in 1990. The rise of China, and subsequently Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand, has altered the Taiwanese export sector which ships semi-finished goods to its neighbors, from where they eventually make their way to the United States.

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United States

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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