Decade in Review: Highlights of the 2010s Economy

December 31, 2019 Updated: January 1, 2020
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The 2010s saw America’s economy hit its longest-ever period of sustained growth—a streak that has shrunk unemployment, swelled household wealth, and helped propel the stock market to historic highs.

Notable milestones include a revival of the housing market after the 2008 financial meltdown, 110 months of uninterrupted job gains, and an unemployment rate near a half-century low.

Historic gross domestic product (GDP) figures from the Federal Reserve show two other periods of comparably long economic expansion before experiencing a downturn, namely 1961-1970, and 1991-2001.

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Historic table showing real gross domestic product (GDP) in the United States. (Bureau of Economic Analysis / Federal Reserve)

“First, as this expansion continues into its 11th year—the longest in U.S. history—economic conditions are generally good,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in November. “Second, the benefits of the long expansion are only now reaching many communities, and there is plenty of room to build on the impressive gains achieved so far.”

Rising Household Wealth

Household wealth—the value of homes, stock portfolios and bank accounts, minus mortgage and credit card debt and other loans—jumped 81 percent in the past decade. Total household net worth topped $107 trillion in the third quarter of 2019 versus just over $59 trillion a decade ago, figures from the Federal Reserve show.

All groups have increased their wealth but to varying degrees. In terms of percent gain over the past decade, the wealth of the top 1 percent grew by 109 percent, the cohort of middle to upper middle class households became around 68 percent richer, while the wealth of the bottom 50 percent grew by 209 percent.

In absolute monetary terms, more than one third of the overall gain—around $18 trillion in riches—went to the wealthiest 1 percent. Middle to upper middle class households gained around $28 trillion, which is approximately 25 percent of the total wealth gain. The bottom half of the population gained just over $1 trillion, which represents less than 2 percent of the overall wealth increase.

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Job Growth Concentration

Just as the distribution of wealth accrued differently across various groups, job opportunities were also concentrated in a handful of places around the country.

Between 2010 and 2017, 40 percent of all new jobs were created in just 20 cities, with places like Nashville and Portland, Oregon, punching significantly above their relative population weight.

What’s more, an even smaller clutch of five cities—four on the West Coast and one in the East—are gaining effectively all of the new jobs in so-called “innovation” industries seen as key to future economic success.

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Unemployment

The latest employment figures, released Dec. 6, show that the seasonally-adjusted civilian unemployment rate for November 2019 stood at 3.5 percent, compared to 9.9 percent a decade ago.

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Joblessness among blacks or African Americans reached historic lows in 2019, falling to 5.5 percent in November this year from 15.7 percent in the same month 10 years ago.

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Job Growth Across Industries

What Americans do for a living has also changed significantly in the last 10 years.

Many old-school industries saw minimal job growth, like manufacturing, or extended declines, like department stores.

The evolving needs of an increasingly technology-oriented economy drove rapid growth in many IT jobs, while an aging population was behind a surge in the number of home health workers. Americans’ changing spending habits—increasingly on experiences over things—helped make fitness center jobs among the fastest-growing of the decade.

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Employment Projections Going Forward

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment to grow by 8.4 million jobs to 169.4 million over the 2018-2028 decade.

The sectors projected to experience the fastest annual employment growth are health care and social assistance (1.6 percent), private educational services (1.2 percent), and construction (1.1 percent), the BLS said in a September release. The agency estimated that these three sectors alone will add more than 4.6 million jobs by 2028.

Five sectors are projected to experience employment declines from 2018 to 2028: retail trade, wholesale trade, utilities, federal government, and manufacturing.

The agency estimates that retail trade will decline by 0.1 percent per year, driven in part by a shift to e-commerce. The trend is projected to cause 153,700 retail jobs to disappear.

Workers aged 65 years and older are increasingly staying in the workforce, the BLS said.

“The labor force participation rate for these workers is expected to increase to 23.3 percent by 2028,” the agency noted.

The trend is much the same for workers ages 55 and older, a group that includes baby boomers. The labor participation rate for this cohort is projected to continue to increase over the 2018-2028 decade to 25.2 percent, from 23.1 percent, the BLS said.

The agency said that it expects real GDP to grow at 1.8 percent from 2018 to 2028, much the same rate as it did in the previous decade.

Labor productivity is expected to accelerate slightly from the previous decade to an annual rate of 1.6 percent. Growth in productivity in the previous decade stood at 1.3 percent per annum.

The BLS expects the overall labor force to grow at an annual rate of 0.5 percent from 2018 to 2028, which represents an increase of 8.9 million over the decade to 171 million by 2028. At the same time, the labor force participation rate is projected to decline to 61.2 percent, driven mostly by a decrease in the participation rate for men, to 66.1 percent from 69.1 percent.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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