Government revises GDP growth up slightly over past 3 years

The economy performed slightly better over the past three years than previously believed, thanks in part to a boost from how the government accounts for gasoline sales. Despite the improvement, the current recovery is still the weakest in more than six decades.

The Commerce Department is boosting growth in two of the past three years, helped by a new approach to accounting for gasoline sales at big chains stores such as Wal-Mart.

The new estimate is the result of the annual update the department's Bureau of Economic Analysis conducts to revise the GDP figures over the past years to reflect revisions to the underlying data. It also reflects improvements the BEA implements in how it tracks GDP, the nation's total output of goods and services.

The revisions made minor changes to economic history, putting growth at 2.6 percent in 2014, up from 2.4 percent. Growth in 2015 is now 2.9 percent, up from 2.6 percent. And it was 1.5 percent in 2016, the only year to see a small reduction from the previous estimate of 1.6 percent.

One of the biggest factors contributing to the changes was a decision by the BEA to separate out gasoline sales at big-box retailers like Wal-Mart. Gasoline sales had been weighing the sales of other items in the calculations because of the big fall in gas prices during the period.

All of the changes boosted growth a slight 0.1 percentage point over the three-year period. And it also lifted growth by the same 0.1 percentage point over the eight-year expansion, now the third longest in U.S. history. Average GDP growth during the period through the end of last year is now at 2.2 percent, up from 2.1 percent previously.

However, that growth rate is still well below the previous 10 expansions going back to 1949.

President Donald Trump often criticized this slowdown during last year's presidential campaign, saying his economic program of tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure spending would double growth. His budget is based on forecasts that growth will rise steadily and hit sustained rates of 3 percent by 2021.