Americans aren't savers. Perhaps this is because we are simply a consumerist culture that loves cool gadgets, pretty cars, big houses, and delicious food. Or perhaps Americans assume that the government safety net of Social Security and Medicare will be enough to make saving for retirement pointless. Whatever the reason, the personal saving rate has not ticked above 8% since the mid-1980s. In the pre-recession 2000s, it rarely ticked above 4%. But personal saving is only part of the picture. The government spends, borrows, and saves too.
Today's chart provides the full saving picture, which is found in the Federal Reserve's semiannual report to congress:
All three of these lines are interesting, but the blue one is possibly the most fascinating. It captures saving on all levels of the U.S. economy. You can see that it's generally been low, rarely above 6% of GDP. But in 2008 total saving went negative.
The chart makes clear why that happened. Government borrowing soared in 2008, which resulted in a deeply negative saving rate. It actually bottomed out below negative 9% in 2009.
How much did the government borrow? So much that it overshadowed the very aggressive saving of individuals and businesses during the recession. In 2010, nonfederal saving began to approach 9% of GDP, approximately matching its 20-year high. Still, total saving remained negative.