A Trillion Here, a Trillion There

In May, Americans’ personal consumption expenditures totaled 13.2 trillion dollars, annualized. Which sounds like a lot. But this was nine and a third percent less than in May of last year. Which is pretty bad, and which reflects the pandemic’s hit on the economy.

Not all consumer expenditures are down, however. Americans’ electric bills totaled 0.2 trillion dollars, annualized. It was six and a half percent more than in May of last year. That’s what happens when so many of us are closeted at home around the clock.

So, Americans’ electric bills were a little bit over one and a half percent of all their consumer expenditures. In comparison, in May of 2019, electric bills were less than one and a third percent of all consumer expenditures.

In order for this measure of electricity’s affordability to revert to its pre-pandemic norm of one and a third percent, the economy needs to significantly strengthen (driving up consumer expenditures) and we need to get out of the house. Which we’re all quite anxious to do.

At least May was an improvement on April. In April, electric bills reached one and two-thirds percent of all consumer expenditures.

Incidentally, U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen, a Republican from Illinois, who as the Senate’s Minority Leader played a crucial role in passing the civil rights laws of the 1960s, did indeed say, “a billion here, a billion there.” This was a time when the federal budget and the economy was still measured in billions of dollars, before the era of trillions. Senator Dirksen is not quite as well-known as the author of an article he submitted, and we published, in Public Utilities Fortnightly.