USA Has Run Annual Trade Deficits for 41 Straight Years

Terence P. Jeffrey | February 7, 2017 | 12:38pm EST
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Former President Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush with President Bill Clinton at the signing of the NAFTA agreement in 1993. (Screen Capture)

( With the United States running trade deficits in both goods and services combined and goods alone in 2016, the nation has not seen a trade surplus in any of the last 41 years, according to data published by the Census Bureau.

The last time the United States ran a trade surplus was 1975--when Gerald Ford was president.

The Census Bureau has published historical data on annual U.S. trade balances going back to 1960. In 13 of the 16 years from 1960 through 1975, the U.S. ran goods-and-services trade surpluses and surpluses in the trade of goods (merchandise) alone.

But in each of the 41 years after 1975, according to data released by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. has run both a merchandise trade deficit and a goods and services deficit.

In 1974, as measured by the Census Bureau, the U.S. ran a merchandise trade surplus of $3,884,000,000. Then in 1975, the nation ran an $9,551,000,000 merchandise trade surplus. In 1976, however, the merchandise trade balance went back into the red—with a deficit of $$7,820,000,000.

Every year since then, the U.S. has run a merchandise trade deficit.

When the Bureau of Economic Analysis adds the U.S. trade balance in services to its calculation of the trade balance in goods, the U.S. still has 41 straight years of goods-and-services trade deficits.

In 1974, according to BEA, the U.S. had a goods-and-services trade deficit of $4,293,000,000. In 1975, the U.S. ran a goods-and-services trade surplus of $12,404,000,000. In 1976, however, the goods-and-services trade balance went back into the red—with a deficit of $6,082,000,000.

Every year since then, the U.S. has run a goods-and-services trade deficit.

The U.S. trade deficit in goods and services peaked at $714,245,000,000 in 2005, according to the BEA. In 2016, it was $502,252,000,000.

The U.S. trade in goods (merchandise) trade deficit peaked at $827,971,000,000 in 2006, according to the Census Bureau. In 2016, it was $734,316,000,000.

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