50 years of government spending, in one graph

Planet Money’s Lam Thuy Vo charts how our government’s spending habits have changed in the past five decades:


The clearest development has been the growth of health-care costs — 50 years ago, Medicare and Medicaid didn’t even exist. Today, the two programs account for about a quarter of all federal spending. Defense spending, meanwhile, has gone from half of the federal budget to a quarter.

It’s also worth noting that federal spending has, over the past 50 years, grown at a pretty similar rate to the rest of the economy. In 1962, the federal government spent $707 billion, accounting for 18 percent of GDP. By 2011, federal spending had inched up to account for 24 percent of the economy or, in dollar figures, $3.1 trillion.

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