9. INDUSTRY, INNOVATION, AND INFRASTRUCTURE

State of the US economy the year you were born – KAKE

Impact team
Written by Impact team

State of the US economy the year you were born  KAKE

By: Betsy Ladyzhets

Henry Han // Wikimedia Commons

State of the U.S. economy during the year you were born

The United States in the past century has gone from a developing industrialized nation to a global economic powerhouse. This country survived two major recessions (and several minor ones), weathered numerous wars, evolved its manufacturing and service industries, and developed a groundbreaking tech sector. But growth is rarely a straight line, as indicated by the state of the U.S. economy year-over-year. We have lived through dips and pitfalls, steady climbs and leaps. Today, we’ve reached a new precipice punctuated by a global pandemic, record-breaking $2 trillion stimulus package, and the tenuous stock market. With all of that unfolding in real-time, Stacker set out to trace the major events that define the economic legacy of the century.

We combined economic data and history to take a hard look at the country’s changing economy through the years. In each slide, you can find six metrics describing the economy from that year including the Consumer Price Index (CPI: the weighted average price of a bundle of goods and services that can be used to track inflation), the Gross Domestic Product (GDP: combined monetary value of all goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a given year), the nation’s federal debt, unemployment rate, and average or median household income of U.S. households. All data has been adjusted for inflation using the 2019 CPI.

Sources for these data are as follows:

– CPI from 1920 to 2019: Minneapolis Federal Reserve
– Population from 1920 to 1959: U.S. Census historical population estimates
– Population from 1960 to 2018: St. Louis Federal Reserve
– Population 2019: Census population clock
– GDP from 1920 to 1928: “What Was the GDP Then?” study by Samuel H. Williamson
– GDP from 1929 to 2919: Bureau of Economic Analysis
– National debt from 1920 to 1939, 2018 to 2019: Treasury Direct
– National debt from 1940 to 2017: Obama White House Archives, Federal debt at end of year table
– Unemployment from 1920 to 1940: U.S. Census Historical Statistics of the United States report
– Unemployment from 1940 to 1948: Bureau of Labor Statistics historical unemployment estimates
– Unemployment from 1949 to 2019: Bureau of Labor Statistics
– Average household income from 1920 to 1952: Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-2002 study by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez
– Median household income from 1953 to 2019: U.S. Census historical income tables

Read on to find out how the U.S. economy was faring the year you were born and why.

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1920

– Population: 106.5 million
– CPI annual average: 20 (+15.6% annual change)
– GDP: $1,141 billion ($10,718 per capita)
– Federal debt: $331,796 million (29.1% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 1.3%
– Average household income: $17,127

Inflation and spending during World War I led to a recession in 1920, now often called a “forgotten depression,” with high inflation rates and high unemployment. Prohibition—the national ban of the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol—also went into effect in 1920. Those who supported Prohibition legislation expected an end to alcohol sales to benefit the economy by driving up consumption of household goods, food and soft drinks, and tickets to theater and other amusements. Instead, the end to liquor sales put restaurants out of business and caused an overall decline in entertainment and other consumption.

Keystone View Company // Wikimedia Commons

1921

– Population: 108.5 million
– CPI annual average: 17.9 (-10.9% annual change)
– GDP: $1,062 billion ($9,781 per capita)
– Federal debt: $342,516 million (32.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 11.2%
– Average household income: $15,116

To recover from the 1920–21 recession, the federal government cut half of its spending and reduced tax rates for all income brackets in a laissez-faire move between 1920 and 1922. Much of the private sector had already begun to recover by the summer of 1921. By the Great Depression, America’s economy in the 1920s grew by 42%.

Copyright by Moffett, Chicago. J241772 U.S. Copyright Office. // Wikimedia Commons

1922

– Population: 110.0 million
– CPI annual average: 16.8 (-6.2% annual change)
– GDP: $1,128 billion ($10,254 per capita)
– Federal debt: $349,508 million (31.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.8%
– Average household income: $17,060

Continued recovery from the 1920–1921 depression came to the United States by way of a dropping unemployment rate. President Warren Harding continued work to reduce the national budget.

Preus museum // Wikimedia Commons

1923

– Population: 111.9 million
– CPI annual average: 17.1 (+1.8% annual change)
– GDP: $1,290 billion ($11,519 per capita)
– Federal debt: $334,200 million (25.9% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 1.7%
– Average household income: $18,976

In August 1923, President Harding died of a heart attack and Vice President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as president. Coolidge’s top priority was business: He aimed to clean up corruption, lower taxes, and reduce government spending.

P & A-Pacific and Atlantic Photos // Wikimedia Commons

1924

– Population: 114.1 million
– CPI annual average: 17.1 (+0.4% annual change)
– GDP: $1,313 billion ($11,504 per capita)
– Federal debt: $317,768 million (24.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.6%
– Average household income: $18,747

American economic growth continued throughout 1924, earning the decade the moniker of the Roaring Twenties. President Coolidge won a full term in office in 1924. Major cultural institution Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) was founded, and the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was held in New York City.

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1925

– Population: 115.8 million
– CPI annual average: 17.5 (+2.4% annual change)
– GDP: $1,336 billion ($11,536 per capita)
– Federal debt: $299,771 million (22.4% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 1.8%
– Average household income: $18,938

In 1925, the federal tax rate for the highest income bracket was lowered to 25%—the lowest since World War I. The federal tax rate in 2020 for the highest earners is 37%.

NASA // Wikimedia Commons

1926

– Population: 117.4 million
– CPI annual average: 17.7 (+0.9% annual change)
– GDP: $1,414 billion ($12,045 per capita)
– Federal debt: $283,772 million (20.1% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 1%
– Average household income: $19,137

Robert Goddard successfully launched the first liquid-fuel rocket in Massachusetts in 1926, a precursor to later NASA designs. Down south, a massive hurricane devastated Miami and nearby parts of Florida, causing damages that would cost more than $164 billion today.

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1927

– Population: 119.0 million
– CPI annual average: 17.4 (-1.9% annual change)
– GDP: $1,418 billion ($11,909 per capita)
– Federal debt: $272,040 million (19.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.5%
– Average household income: $19,280

1927 was the year of Charles Lindbergh’s landmark solo flight from New York to Paris. It was also the year of further government moves toward a laissez-faire system, as the discount rate on loans made to banks was lowered from 4% to 3.5%.

Alexandra Studios // Wikimedia Commons

1928

– Population: 120.5 million
– CPI annual average: 17.2 (-1.2% annual change)
– GDP: $1,461 billion ($12,127 per capita)
– Federal debt: $261,710 million (17.9% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.9%
– Average household income: $19,675

In 1928, widespread speculation on Wall Street caused a huge increase in stock prices (an average increase of about 40%). This event later became known as the Great Bull Market.

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1929

– Population: 121.8 million
– CPI annual average: 17.2 (0.0% annual change)
– GDP: $1,555 billion ($12,770 per capita)
– Federal debt: $25,171 million (1.6% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 0.9%
– Average household income: $20,512

Herbert Hoover, who served as the secretary of commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, became the U.S. president in 1929. He was confident in American economic prosperity when he was sworn in, but by the following September, the stock market had begun to pull back. The crash culminated on “Black Thursday,” Oct. 24, when a record of 12,894,650 shares were traded in one day, marking the beginning of the Great Depression.

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1930

– Population: 124.0 million
– CPI annual average: 16.7 (-2.7% annual change)
– GDP: $1,412 billion ($11,381 per capita)
– Federal debt: $247,819 million (17.6% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.9%
– Average household income: $18,585

Early efforts to defend against the Great Depression included the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which President Hoover signed into law on June 17, 1930. The bill raised foreign tariff rates to keep money in the U.S. rather than investing in Europe. The result was a sharp downturn in global trade.

[Pictured: Willis C. Hawley (left) and Reed Smoot meeting shortly after the signing of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.]

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1931

– Population: 124 million
– CPI annual average: 15.2 (-8.9% annual change)
– GDP: $1,302 billion ($10,497 per capita)
– Federal debt: $282,637 million (21.7% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 14.2%
– Average household income: $16,863

No major legislation was passed relating to the Depression in 1931. However, unemployment rose sharply (from 8.7% in December 1930 to 15.9% in December 1931), and the GDP continued to fall.

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1932

– Population: 124.8 million
– CPI annual average: 13.6 (-10.3% annual change)
– GDP: $1,119 billion ($8,961 per capita)
– Federal debt: $3,664 million (0.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 22.7%
– Average household income: $14,182

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit its lowest point of the Great Depression—41.22—on July 8, 1932. The Summer Olympics, which opened in Los Angeles later that month, were held on a tight budget. The Great Depression was causing economic hardship around the world: Just 37 nations sent 1,503 athletes to the summer games and several events were canceled because of the lack of participants.

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1933

– Population: 125.6 million
– CPI annual average: 12.9 (-5.2% annual change)
– GDP: $1,134 billion ($9,029 per capita)
– Federal debt: $446,755 million (39.4% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 23.4%
– Average household income: $13,813

President Hoover was decidedly unpopular after his tenure during the Depression, helping Franklin Delano Roosevelt win the presidential election of 1932 by a landslide. In the first 100 days of FDR’s presidency, 15 bills were passed that redistributed the nation’s wealth from the government and the wealthy to those who were in need.

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1934

– Population: 126.4 million
– CPI annual average: 13.4 (+3.5% annual change)
– GDP: $1,275 billion ($10,087 per capita)
– Federal debt: $52,536 million (4.1% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 19%
– Average household income: $15,171

1934 marked the beginning of America’s recovery from the Great Depression, largely thanks to policies spearheaded by FDR and Congress. The country’s unemployment rate dropped below 20% and the GDP began to rise again.

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1935

– Population: 127.3 million
– CPI annual average: 13.7 (+2.6% annual change)
– GDP: $1,387 billion ($10,898 per capita)
– Federal debt: $535,680 million (38.6% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 17.6%
– Average household income: $16,427

Due to unsustainable farming practices and significant drought in the Midwest and Southern Great Plains, these regions suffered intense poverty during the 1930s—a period now known as the Dust Bowl. The worst dust storm, coined “Black Sunday” by reporters, struck on April 14, 1935; up to 3 million tons of topsoil blew off the Great Plains and moved east. This event motivated Congress to pass New Deal programs to help displaced farmers and improve the land in the wake of environmental degradation.

Minnesota Historical Society // Getty Images

1936

– Population: 128.1 million
– CPI annual average: 13.9 (+1% annual change)
– GDP: $1,562 billion ($12,196 per capita)
– Federal debt: $621,379 million (39.8% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 14.1%
– Average household income: $18,030

As the country continued to recover from economic depression, Americans across the nation experienced an intense heat wave. Many cities—including New York, Columbus, Baltimore, and Minneapolis—recorded their hottest temperatures in history in the summer of 1936.

Unnamed WPA photographer // Wikimedia Commons

1937

– Population: 128.8 million
– CPI annual average: 14.4 (+3.7% annual change)
– GDP: $1,651 billion ($12,819 per capita)
– Federal debt: $646,790 million (39.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 12.2%
– Average household income: $18,907

The Wagner Act, passed in 1935, protected workers’ rights, encouraged collective bargaining, and created the National Labor Relations Board to investigate unfair labor practices. Employer groups led by the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation questioned this Board, but the Supreme Court upheld it as constitutional in a landmark court case in 1937.

Jaclyn Nash/National Numismatic Collection/US Mint // Wikimedia Commons

1938

– Population: 129.8 million
– CPI annual average: 14.1 (-2% annual change)
– GDP: $1,585 billion ($12,209 per capita)
– Federal debt: $673,973 million (42.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 18.4%
– Average household income: $17,391

Economic recovery faltered in 1937 and 1938, when government spending was reduced and the Treasury Department limited gold inflows, leading to lowered production and increased unemployment. This policy was reversed later that year.

[Pictured: A 1933 $20 Saint Gaudens gold coin.]

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration // Wikimedia Commons

1939

– Population: 130.9 million
– CPI annual average: 13.9 (-1.3% annual change)
– GDP: $1,720 billion ($13,142 per capita)
– Federal debt: $743,913 million (43.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 16.3%
– Average household income: $18,530

Hitler invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, marking the beginning of World War II. Although the U.S. officially declared neutrality, FDR’s “cash and carry” policy permitted American companies to sell weapons to fighting nations.

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1940

– Population: 132.1 million
– CPI annual average: 14 (+0.7% annual change)
– GDP: $1,879 billion ($14,225 per capita)
– Federal debt: $925,926 million (49.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 12.7%
– Average household income: $19,400

As World War II raged across Europe, many American business leaders advocated for “preparedness” for the country to enter the fight through strengthening ties with U.S. allies and converting industries to war material. The first peacetime draft in U.S. history was instituted in September of that year.

[Pictured: American troops with an array of armour during exercises in Louisiana.]

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1941

– Population: 133.4 million
– CPI annual average: 14.7 (+5.1% annual change)
– GDP: $2,251 billion ($16,873 per capita)
– Federal debt: $1,000,726 million (44.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.5%
– Average household income: $22,676

In January 1941, FDR introduced the “lend-lease” program, allowing America to send military aid to England without technically getting involved in World War II. The U.S. did finally join the fight that year, however, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

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1942

– Population: 134.9 million
– CPI annual average: 16.3 (+10.9% annual change)
– GDP: $2,604 billion ($19,309 per capita)
– Federal debt: $1,242,420 million (47.7% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 2.7%
– Average household income: $26,345

FDR in 1942 created the War Production Board, directed by former Sears Roebuck executive Donald Nelson. The War Production Board worked to manage the U.S.’s wartime economy through balancing military needs with civilian needs, including curtailing the military’s budget and allocating all steel, aluminum, and copper to manufacturers.

U.S. Air Force // Wikimedia Commons

1943

– Population: 136.7 million
– CPI annual average: 17.3 (+6% annual change)
– GDP: $3,002 billion ($21,953 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,108,387 million (70.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 1.3%
– Average household income: $30,464

World War II stimulated the American economy like nothing before, in spite of being devastating for many nations. The GDP in 1943 (adjusted for inflation) was almost 2.5 times that of the GDP in 1933 ($778,300 million), with 40% of the gross national product related to war-related industries.

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1944

– Population: 138.4 million
– CPI annual average: 17.6 (+1.6% annual change)
– GDP: $3,263 billion ($23,578 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,964,943 million (90.9% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 0.9%
– Average household income: $32,264

Delegates from all 44 Allied nations met in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, for the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference in July of 1944. This conference resulted in plans for a global economy after the defeat of Germany and Japan, including the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund.

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LT. Stephen E. Korpanty // Wikimedia Commons

1945

– Population: 139.9 million
– CPI annual average: 18 (+2.3% annual change)
– GDP: $3,242 billion ($23,167 per capita)
– Federal debt: $3,695,192 million (114.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.7%
– Average household income: $31,533

1945 marked the end of World War II, with the German surrender on May 8 and the Japanese surrender Aug. 14. About 16 million Americans had served in the war, and economic sectors from shipbuilding to nuclear power (kicked off by the Manhattan Project, which cost about $2 billion) had been completely transformed.

[Pictured: Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the Japanese Government, Sept. 2, 1945.]

Seattle Municipal Archives // Flickr

1946

– Population: 141.4 million
– CPI annual average: 19.5 (+8.5% annual change)
– GDP: $2,987 billion ($21,127 per capita)
– Federal debt: $3,553,456 million (119.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.6%
– Average household income: $29,845

The federal government severely cut back on spending following World War II, from $84 billion in 1945 to less than $30 billion in 1946. Keynesian economists predicted that this would return the nation to widespread unemployment, but labor markets adjusted quickly and the economy remained secure.

[Pictuired: The Marine Phoenix and other naval ships bringing troops home from the Pacific.]

Bettmann // Getty Images

1947

– Population: 144.1 million
– CPI annual average: 22.3 (+14.4% annual change)
– GDP: $2,865 billion ($19,882 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,948,565 million (102.9% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 2.8%
– Average household income: $28,641

The U.S. put its newly gained wealth to global use in 1947 with the beginning of the Truman Doctrine, which emerged from a speech President Harry Truman gave in March of that year urging Congress to provide monetary support to the Greek government in its fight against the Greek Communist Party. The speech set a precedent of America supporting democratic nations under threat from communist forces that would continue throughout the Cold War.

Universal History Archive // Getty Images

1948

– Population: 146.6 million
– CPI annual average: 24 (+7.7% annual change)
– GDP: $2,928 billion ($19,967 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,685,180 million (91.7% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4%
– Average household income: $29,146

The channeling of American wealth overseas continued with the Marshall Plan, named after Secretary of State George C. Marshall. Through this plan, 16 western European nations received almost $13 billion in aid to help restart their economies.

[Pictured: Marshall Plan demonstration in Germany, 1948.]

Abbie Rowe, 1905-1967, Photographer // Wikimedia Cmmons

1949

– Population: 149.2 million
– CPI annual average: 23.8 (-1.0% annual change)
– GDP: $2,931 billion ($19,646 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,713,965 million (92.6% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.6%
– Average household income: $28,791

A minor recession took place from 1948 into 1949, demonstrated in declining industrial production, declining exports, and a rise in unemployment. However, with expanded government spending (especially in the military and foreign aid), the nation was soon back on track.

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Pfc. Wayne H. Weidner // Wikimedia Commons

1950

– Population: 152.3 million
– CPI annual average: 24.1 (+1.1% annual change)
– GDP: $3,185 billion ($20,917 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,725,200 million (85.6% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.3%
– Average household income: $31,075

The United States entered the Korean War in June 1950, providing South Korean forces with financial and military aid in their attempts to dispel the USSR-backed North Korean invasion. The fighting would end in 1953 when Korea was divided along the 38th parallel.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration // Wikimedia Commons

1951

– Population: 154.9 million
– CPI annual average: 26 (+7.9% annual change)
– GDP: $3,416 billion ($22,053 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,510,659 million (73.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.1%
– Average household income: $32,017

The summer of 1951 was a time of crisis in the Midwest when the Kansas River flooded due to heavy rains, forcing thousands of people to abandon their homes and workplaces. The damages due to this flood were $760 million—equivalent to more than $5 billion today.

Abbie Rowe, 1905-1967, Photographer // Wikimedia Commons

1952

– Population: 157.6 million
– CPI annual average: 26.6 (+2.3% annual change)
– GDP: $3,535 billion ($22,435 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,490,643 million (70.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 2.7%
– Average household income: $33,035

In April 1952, President Truman authorized the secretary of commerce to seize and operate America’s steel mills in order to prevent a strike by dissatisfied steel workers. This move toward nationalization did not stand, however, as the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in June.

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1953

– Population: 160.2 million
– CPI annual average: 26.8 (+0.8% annual change)
– GDP: $3,718 billion ($23,212 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,537,565 million (68.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.5%
– Median household income: $40,473

The field of biology saw landmark innovation in 1953, as James Watson and Francis Crick published their famous paper describing the double helix structure of DNA. In Washington, Dwight Eisenhower was sworn in as president; soon after he took office, he signed an armistice signaling the end of the Korean War.

Bettmann // Getty Images

1954

– Population: 163.0 million
– CPI annual average: 26.9 (+0.3% annual change)
– GDP: $3,718 billion ($22,804 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,574,224 million (69.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5%
– Median household income: $39,610

The U.S. economy was booming in 1954, but social tensions were high: Sen. Joseph McCarthy publicly investigated the U.S. Army for being “soft” on communism, and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of integrating public schools in Brown v. Board of Education. 1954 also marked the beginning of mass polio vaccinations.

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1955

– Population: 165.9 million
– CPI annual average: 26.8 (-0.3% annual change)
– GDP: $4,066 billion ($24,507 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,617,738 million (64.4% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.2%
– Median household income: $42,152

In December 1955, America’s two largest labor unions—the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations—merged to form one large, unified body: the AFL-CIO. Although AFL leadership was more conservative and the CIO was more liberal, the two unions had common goals and significant bargaining power when unified.

National Archives and Records Administration // Wikimedia Commons

1956

– Population: 168.9 million
– CPI annual average: 27.2 (+1.5% annual change)
– GDP: $4,231 billion ($25,051 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,563,515 million (60.6% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.2%
– Median household income: $44,936

The interstate highway system, now an essential part of the American landscape, was born in June 1956 when President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. This bill allocated $26 billion to build a 41,000-mile highway network spanning the nation. Eisenhower was reelected for a second presidential term that same year.

BrokenSphere // Wikimedia Commons

1957

– Population: 172 million
– CPI annual average: 28.1 (+3.3% annual change)
– GDP: $4,321 billion ($25,127 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,477,396 million (57.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.2%
– Median household income: $45,189

Two major stock exchanges on the West Coast, the San Francisco Stock Exchange and the Los Angeles Oil Exchange, in 1957 merged to form the Pacific Stock Exchange. Among others, this new Exchange was led by financial moguls Elias Jackson Baldwin and George Hearst.

NASA/Uwe W. // Wikimedia Commons

1958

– Population: 174.9 million
– CPI annual average: 28.9 (+2.7% annual change)
– GDP: $4,265 billion ($24,386 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,474,415 million (58% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.2%
– Median household income: $45,009

Hoping to match its economic prosperity with technological advancement, the U.S. launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, on Jan. 31, 1958, following the U.S.S.R.’s launch of Sputnik in 1957. Explorer 1 successfully orbited Earth more than 50,000 times before re-entering the atmosphere in 1970.

Abbie Rowe // Wikimedia Commons

1959

– Population: 177.8 million
– CPI annual average: 29.2 (+1.1% annual change)
– GDP: $4,575 billion ($25,729 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,517,288 million (55.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.3%
– Median household income: $47,436

The 49th and 50th U.S. states joined the union in 1959: Alaska joined on Jan. 3 and Hawaii on Aug. 21. Alaska, in particular, went on to benefit the U.S. economy through its rich natural resources.

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1960

– Population: 180.7 million
– CPI annual average: 29.6 (+1.5% annual change)
– GDP: $4,693 billion ($25,977 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,509,704 million (53.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.6%
– Median household income: $48,548

A minor recession hit the U.S. in April 1960, demonstrated by a rise in unemployment (more than 6%) and lowered product demand. This recession was also known as the “rolling adjustment” for some industries—particularly the automobile industry—which had to adjust as Americans switched from buying American-made products to purchasing foreign products.

Reino Kalevi Lehtonen // Wikimedia Commons

1961

– Population: 183.7 million
– CPI annual average: 29.9 (+1.1% annual change)
– GDP: $4,817 billion ($26,225 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,502,679 million (52.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6%
– Median household income: $49,045

The U.S. recovered from the rolling adjustment, and economic expansion of the 1950s continued into the ’60s, marked by the merging of corporations into conglomerates and the decline of single-proprietor businesses. The American middle class was clearly here to stay.

Seattle Municipal Archives // Flickr

1962

– Population: 186.5 million
– CPI annual average: 30.3 (+1.2% annual change)
– GDP: $5,106 billion ($27,375 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,556,392 million (50.1% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.5%
– Median household income: $50,262

The first World’s Fair to be held in the U.S. since World War II opened in 1962 in Seattle. Seattle’s Fair, a monumental enough project for the city to build a new monorail line, drew 10 million visitors from around the world and was a major economic boost for the West Coast.

Abbie Rowe // Wikimedia Commons

1963

– Population: 189.2 million
– CPI annual average: 30.6 (+1.2% annual change)
– GDP: $5,336 billion ($28,198 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,593,132 million (48.6% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.5%
– Median household income: $52,218

As part of a campaign to reduce the circulation of Silver Certificates, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 1110 in June 1963. This order gave the secretary of the Treasury power to control the issue of this currency.

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1964

– Population: 191.9 million
– CPI annual average: 31 (+1.3% annual change)
– GDP: $5,657 billion ($29,479 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,606,977 million (46.1% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5%
– Median household income: $54,184

President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was sworn into office after Kennedy’s assassination, was reelected to a full term in 1964. Domestically, Johnson’s policies focused on fighting poverty through the introduction of work training programs, education reform, Medicare and Medicaid, and other programs. He was still largely unpopular, however, because of his decisions to increasingly involve America in the Vietnam War.

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White House Press Office // Wikimedia Commons

1965

– Population: 194.3 million
– CPI annual average: 31.5 (+1.6% annual change)
– GDP: $6,037 billion ($31,070 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,616,404 million (43.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4%
– Median household income: $56,473

LBJ was officially sworn into office in January 1965; he established Medicare and Medicaid later that year with the Social Security Act of 1965. This year also marked the beginning of major protests against the Vietnam War, including the first public burning of a draft card and public self-immolation.

U.S. Information Agency // Wikimedia Commons

1966

– Population: 196.6 million
– CPI annual average: 32.5 (+3.0% annual change)
– GDP: $6,412 billion ($32,622 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,584,521 million (40.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.8%
– Median household income: $59,259

Despite increasing Vietnam War protests in 1966, the American economy was largely unaffected by the war. In 1965 and 1966, only about 8% of the gross national product was spent on the military. The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 1,000 for the first time in January of this year.

continent. // Wikimedia Commons

1967

– Population: 198.7 million
– CPI annual average: 33.4 (+2.8% annual change)
– GDP: $6,597 billion ($33,198 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,606,341 million (39.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.8%
– Median household income: $60,733

Social tension continued in 1967, including the violent Detroit Race Riots and a march of 100,000 on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. Despite these tensions, the GDP and unemployment remained steady. This year also saw the swearing in of Thurgood Marshall, America’s first African American Supreme Court Justice.

manhhai // Wikimedia Commons

1968

– Population: 200.7 million
– CPI annual average: 34.8 (+4.3% annual change)
– GDP: $6,925 billion ($34,504 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,708,987 million (39.1% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.4%
– Median household income: $63,425

President Johnson announced a partial halt to the bombing of North Vietnam on March 31, 1968, and proposed peace talks, although troops would remain in Vietnam until 1973. Johnson added that he would not seek reelection.

Pxhere

1969

– Population: 202.7 million
– CPI annual average: 36.7 (+5.5% annual change)
– GDP: $7,106 billion ($35,060 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,548,423 million (35.9% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.5%
– Median household income: $65,723

1969 was the year that man walked on the moon. It was also President Richard Nixon’s first year in the Oval Office; he was faced with inflation problems starting that December.

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University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability // Flickr

1970

– Population: 205.1 million
– CPI annual average: 38.8 (+5.8% annual change)
– GDP: $7,090 billion ($34,579 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,510,348 million (35.4% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.1%
– Median household income: $65,026

Issues of increasing inflation continued into 1970. President Nixon attempted to combat the oncoming recession with tax reform legislation, but inflation and unemployment continued to rise. 1970 also marked the first celebration of Earth Day.

Department of Defense // Wikimedia Commons

1971

– Population: 207.7 million
– CPI annual average: 40.5 (+4.3% annual change)
– GDP: $7,373 billion ($35,505 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,577,052 million (35.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6%
– Median household income: $64,935

In August 1971, President Nixon declared a state of national emergency and announced the New Economic Plan (N.E.P.), which ironically shares a name with Soviet policies put into effect by Vladimir Lenin 50 years earlier. This plan included a surcharge on imports and the freezing of prices, wages, and rents for 90 days, with future price controls to come.

NIH Intramural Research Program

1972

– Population: 209.9 million
– CPI annual average: 41.8 (+3.3% annual change)
– GDP: $7,845 billion ($37,374 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,666,719 million (34.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.2%
– Median household income: $67,999

Nixon’s New Economic Plan had great short-term success in 1972; production output rose and unemployment fell, helping Nixon win his second term in office. The plan was less successful in the long run, as it contributed to negative repercussions of the oil embargo the following year.

Wehwalt // Wikimedia Commons

1973

– Population: 211.9 million
– CPI annual average: 44.4 (+6.2% annual change)
– GDP: $8,227 billion ($38,822 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,685,374 million (32.6% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.9%
– Median household income: $69,402

Recession struck the U.S. again in 1973 when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), including Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, agreed to stop exporting oil to the U.S. after the U.S. supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War. The Nixon administration kept tight control on wages, prices, and interest rates, which led to mass layoffs as companies struggled to stay in business.

Alaska Blue Book // Wikimedia Commons

1974

– Population: 213.9 million
– CPI annual average: 49.3 (+11.1% annual change)
– GDP: $8,033 billion ($37,563 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,509,766 million (31.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 7.2%
– Median household income: $66,918

In response to the oil recession, the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act was passed and signed into law in January 1974. This act included a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour, intended to conserve American use of oil. The OPEC embargo was lifted in March, but drivers continued to face high gas prices of $11.65 per barrel and demand increased for energy-efficient cars.

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David Falconer // Wikimedia Commons

1975

– Population: 216 million
– CPI annual average: 53.8 (+9.1% annual change)
– GDP: $8,027 billion ($37,167 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,575,655 million (32.1% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 8.2%
– Median household income: $65,204

Although the OPEC embargo was lifted in 1974, America took more time to recover from the oil recession. Unemployment reached a high of 9% in May of 1975. The turning point marking the end of the recession finally came in March; it lasted a total of 16 months, longer than any recession since World War II.

Wikimedia Commons

1976

– Population: 218 million
– CPI annual average: 56.9 (+5.7% annual change)
– GDP: $8,438 billion ($38,699 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,826,496 million (33.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 7.8%
– Median household income: $67,219

On July 4, 1976, the U.S. celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence; plans for festivities started 10 years earlier. Many marginalized groups protested ceremonies purporting American unity.

[Pictured: The American Freedom Train during a bicentennial visit.]

Wikimedia Commons

1977

– Population: 220.2 million
– CPI annual average: 60.6 (+6.5% annual change)
– GDP: $8,802 billion ($39,965 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,980,627 million (33.9% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.4%
– Median household income: $67,550

The nation was fully recovered from the oil recession by 1977: Rhe Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank reported that between winter 1975 and winter 1978, “production had increased by at least 16% and more than 7.7 million workers had found new jobs,” largely due to increased consumer spending.

SecretName101 // Wikimedia Commons

1978

– Population: 222.6 million
– CPI annual average: 65.2 (+7.6% annual change)
– GDP: $9,242 billion ($41,522 per capita)
– Federal debt: $3,045,662 million (33.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6%
– Median household income: $69,180

The beginning of 1978 caused challenges for the U.S. economy, between a massive 1978 blizzard in the northeastern U.S. and a three-month-long nationwide coal strike. Still, overall recovery continued; unemployment was down to 6% by the end of the year.

Warren K. Leffler // Flickr

1979

– Population: 225.1 million
– CPI annual average: 72.6 (+11.3% annual change)
– GDP: $9,270 billion ($41,192 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,921,415 million (31.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6%
– Median household income: $68,986

Automobile giant Chrysler was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1979 due to high gas prices (which skyrocketed again in 1979) and other factors driving Americans to purchase more energy-efficient Japanese cars rather than American models. The federal government bailed the company out with a $1.5 billion loan, effectively saving more than 300,000 jobs.

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US National Archives bot // Wikimedia Commons

1980

– Population: 227.2 million
– CPI annual average: 82.4 (+13.5% annual change)
– GDP: $8,883 billion ($39,092 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,820,895 million (31.8% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 7.2%
– Median household income: $65,238

A recession in the first six months of 1980 was caused by oil price spikes related to the Iranian revolution of 1979 and a restrictive monetary policy put into place by Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to fight inflation. Recovery appeared to be on the horizon that summer, but it soon faltered, coinciding with President Ronald Reagan’s cuts in domestic spending.

Wikimedia Commons

1981

– Population: 229.5 million
– CPI annual average: 90.9 (+10.3% annual change)
– GDP: $9,032 billion ($39,363 per capita)
– Federal debt: $2,798,433 million (31.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 8.5%
– Median household income: $62,977

The recession of 1980 continued through the summer of 1981 as the Federal Reserve once again reduced its output in a failing attempt to combat inflation. This move caused high interest rates, which put particular pressure on industries dependent upon borrowing money such as manufacturing and construction, leading to heavy layoffs in those sectors.

Seattle Municipal Archives // Flickr

1982

– Population: 231.7 million
– CPI annual average: 96.5 (+6.1% annual change)
– GDP: $8,863 billion ($38,260 per capita)
– Federal debt: $3,013,590 million (34.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 10.8%
– Median household income: $62,091

Unemployment from the early ‘80s recession reached its peak in 1982 at almost 11%, the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. since the Great Depression. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker stuck to his guns and did not significantly loosen monetary policy, but interest rates fell, taxes and the national budget were reduced, and recovery had begun by the end of the year.

Reagan White House Photographs // Wikimedia Commons

1983

– Population: 233.8 million
– CPI annual average: 99.6 (+3.2% annual change)
– GDP: $9,340 billion ($39,950 per capita)
– Federal debt: $3,521,420 million (37.7% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 8.3%
– Median household income: $63,103

Another big government bailout occurred in 1983. This time it was for Social Security, which was in serious danger of becoming unable to supply pensions to retired workers. In a strategy lauded at the time as a bipartisan victory (but harmful for retirees today), President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill raised the retirement age and required government employees to pay into social security, among other changes.

Carey Akin // Wikimedia Commons

1984

– Population: 235.8 million
– CPI annual average: 103.9 (+4.3% annual change)
– GDP: $9,944 billion ($42,168 per capita)
– Federal debt: $3,850,478 million (38.7% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 7.3%
– Median household income: $65,052

New Orleans in 1984 hosted the final World’s Fair. The event had high expectations, but was underfunded from the beginning and eventually only attended by about 7 million people (of a hoped-for 15 million). It closed with a total debt of $102 million in November.

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Yvonne Hemsey // Getty Images

1985

– Population: 237.9 million
– CPI annual average: 107.6 (+3.5% annual change)
– GDP: $10,329 billion ($43,415 per capita)
– Federal debt: $4,318,913 million (41.8% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 7%
– Median household income: $65,909

Economists in 1985 were alarmed by an increasing federal debt and trade deficit, with the Federal Reserve facing negative repercussions no matter if it tightened or loosened credit. In the private sector, it was a year of conglomeration: General Electric bought the RCA Corporation and Capital Cities Communications bought ABC.

[Pictured: Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric, and Thornton Bradshaw, chairman of RCA, are photographed December 12, 1985, in New York City.]

Cobatfor // Wikimedia Commons

1986

– Population: 240.1 million
– CPI annual average: 109.6 (+1.9% annual change)
– GDP: $10,709 billion ($44,596 per capita)
– Federal debt: $4,947,191 million (46.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.6%
– Median household income: $68,726

The GDP in 1986 only grew by 2.5% over the course of the year, its worst since the midst of the 1982 recession. The government ran deficits to pay for tax cuts and military expansion, and a sharp decline in oil prices led to massive unemployment in the oil and gas industries.

Roger Hsu // Flickr

1987

– Population: 242.3 million
– CPI annual average: 113.6 (+3.7% annual change)
– GDP: $10,962 billion ($45,244 per capita)
– Federal debt: $5,280,466 million (48.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.7%
– Median household income: $69,710

A dramatic stock market crash took place on Oct. 19, 1987, now known as Black Monday: the “worst day in Wall Street history.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 22.6%, more than any other single day in history. The crash has been attributed to high interest rates, inflation, and trading computer programs that automatically liquidated stocks as the market began to fall, leading to a domino effect around the world.

Jim.henderson // Wikimedia Commons

1988

– Population: 244.5 million
– CPI annual average: 118.3 (+4.1% annual change)
– GDP: $11,353 billion ($46,435 per capita)
– Federal debt: $5,622,166 million (49.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.3%
– Median household income: $69,579

BlackRock, a global asset management firm now called “the most powerful shadow bank in the world,” was founded in 1988 by eight experts in fixed-income security. This firm marks an increasing trend in the U.S. economy towards investment with asset managers rather than with banks or large firms.

Jebur~commonswiki // Wikimedia Commons

1989

– Population: 246.8 million
– CPI annual average: 124 (+4.8% annual change)
– GDP: $11,667 billion ($47,268 per capita)
– Federal debt: $5,913,681 million (50.7% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.4%
– Median household income: $70,551

The savings and loan industry experienced rapid growth throughout the 1980s, but much of that growth was due to investments in increasingly risky projects and the payment of increasingly high interest rates. Many businesses failed at high costs for taxpayers, especially in Texas, leading the federal government (now under President George H.W. Bush) to reform the industry with the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989.

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Hohum // Wikiedia Commons

1990

– Population: 249.6 million
– CPI annual average: 130.7 (+5.4% annual change)
– GDP: $11,698 billion ($46,864 per capita)
– Federal debt: $6,272,749 million (53.6% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.3%
– Median household income: $69,164

The Gulf War coincided with a recession in 1990. A combination of factors led to a decline in the GDP and rising unemployment, including the savings and loan collapse, lack of stability in the stock market, and high oil prices due to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Mark Wilson // Getty Images

1991

– Population: 253.0 million
– CPI annual average: 136.2 (+4.2% annual change)
– GDP: $11,591 billion ($45,818 per capita)
– Federal debt: $6,755,170 million (58.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 7.3%
– Median household income: $67,471

Although tensions in the Middle East were part of the causes of the early ’90s recession, U.S. involvement in the Gulf War also helped bring oil prices and inflation back down, buffered by Americans at the time remaining faithful that the markets would rise back up. The New York Times reported “America’s foreign balance swung from a $23.4 billion deficit in the fourth quarter of 1990 to a $10.2 billion surplus in the first quarter of 1991.”

Kenneth C. Zirkel // Wikimedia Commons

1992

– Population: 256.5 million
– CPI annual average: 140.3 (+3.0% annual change)
– GDP: $11,918 billion ($46,462 per capita)
– Federal debt: $7,293,350 million (61.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 7.4%
– Median household income: $66,655

The U.S. had mostly recovered from the recession of 1990 and 1991 in 1992, though unemployment remained fairly high that year. Worries about America’s future carried Bill Clinton to a victory in the 1992 presidential election as he talked about the “Bush recession,” arguing that an economic overhaul was necessary.

Hagindaz~commonswiki // Wikimedia Commons

1993

– Population: 259.9 million
– CPI annual average: 144.5 (+3% annual change)
– GDP: $12,172 billion ($46,831 per capita)
– Federal debt: $7,699,391 million (63.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.5%
– Median household income: $65,401

The late 1990s marked a time of economic prosperity in the U.S. President Bill Clinton’s first budget, drafted in 1993 for the 1994 fiscal year, cut spending and increased taxes in a move that arguably led to budget surplus later in the decade.

Carlos Delgado // Wikimedia Commons

1994

– Population: 263.1 million
– CPI annual average: 148.2 (+2.6% annual change)
– GDP: $12,610 billion ($47,925 per capita)
– Federal debt: $8,011,428 million (63.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.5%
– Median household income: $66,913

1994 was a contradictory year: Although the economy grew overall, stock and bond markets suffered. Economists claimed that money was flowing out of Wall Street and back into the “real world” of actual goods and services.

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THERESE FRARE/AFP // Getty Images

1995

– Population: 266.3 million
– CPI annual average: 152.4 (+2.8% annual change)
– GDP: $12,859 billion ($48,292 per capita)
– Federal debt: $8,255,865 million (64.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.6%
– Median household income: $68,138

The World Trade Organization was founded Jan. 1, aiming to operate global trade rules and mediate disputes. Windows 95 was released that August, launching the internet’s explosive growth.

Wikimedia Commons

1996

– Population: 269.4 million
– CPI annual average: 156.9 (+2.9% annual change)
– GDP: $13,201 billion ($49,002 per capita)
– Federal debt: $8,444,236 million (64% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.4%
– Median household income: $68,936

The U.S. economy continued to grow in 1996; low inflation was particularly notable, as the “core” rate only rose by 2.6%, its lowest rate in more than 30 years. But in a famous speech in December of that year, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan warned investors not to get too comfortable in “irrational exuberance” and slow down on buying.

mark reinstein // Shutterstock

1997

– Population: 272.7 million
– CPI annual average: 160.5 (+2.3% annual change)
– GDP: $13,715 billion ($50,300 per capita)
– Federal debt: $8,553,931 million (62.4% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.7%
– Median household income: $71,003

In 1997, some experts believed the U.S. economy was “too good to be true,” while others cited technology and other changes as the markers of a “new paradigm.” Low inflation continued to hold from previous years, and unemployment had dropped below 5% for the first time in more than a decade.

Rdsmith4 // Wikimedia Commons

1998

– Population: 275.9 million
– CPI annual average: 163 (+1.6% annual change)
– GDP: $14,258 billion ($51,688 per capita)
– Federal debt: $8,593,699 million (60.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.4%
– Median household income: $73,317

Signs the U.S. economy was too good to be true emerged in 1998. Currency devaluations in several Asian countries, a drop in oil prices, lower corporate bond rates, and a disproportionately prosperous stock market all surprised and worried Federal Reserve researchers.

Avij // Wikimedia Commons

1999

– Population: 279 million
– CPI annual average: 166.6 (+2.2% annual change)
– GDP: $14,827 billion ($53,137 per capita)
– Federal debt: $8,603,435 million (58% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4%
– Median household income: $74,946

The euro was introduced on Jan. 1, 1999, presenting a competing currency on the level of the U.S. dollar for the first time in decades. The stock market was still soaring later that year, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed over 10,000 for the first time on March 29.

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Mike Kalasnik // Wikimedia Commons

2000

– Population: 282.2 million
– CPI annual average: 172.2 (+3.4% annual change)
– GDP: $15,272 billion ($54,125 per capita)
– Federal debt: $8,358,064 million (54.7% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.9%
– Median household income: $75,332

Unemployment fell to 3.9% in 2000, the lowest rate in 30 years. Jobs grew in the service industries even as an old giant, Montgomery Ward, announced that it would close its doors towards the end of the year. Meanwhile, the dotcom bubble burst: Internet stocks fell $1.7 trillion from a high that had started in 1997 when investors began buying anything internet-related without actually assessing its value.

9/11 Photos // Flickr

2001

– Population: 285 million
– CPI annual average: 177.1 (+2.8% annual change)
– GDP: $15,336 billion ($53,816 per capita)
– Federal debt: $8,330,653 million (54.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.7%
– Median household income: $74,222

Most Americans were not particularly affected by the huge tech crash resulting from the popping of the dotcom bubble, as the majority of tech stocks were held by the rich. However, the crash still had a big enough effect to drive unemployment up to 5.7%. Furthermore, the events of 9/11 worsened this recession: The New York Stock Exchange closed for the first time since the Great Depression and the federal government channeled money into the military.

Meutia Chaerani / Indradi Soemardjan // Wikimedia Commons

2002

– Population: 287.6 million
– CPI annual average: 179.9 (+1.6% annual change)
– GDP: $15,603 billion ($54,247 per capita)
– Federal debt: $8,810,067 million (56.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6%
– Median household income: $73,455

The effects of the dotcom recession continued into 2002: Investors fearful of changes wrought by the war in Afghanistan sold stocks on a monumental scale, leading to the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 1,360 points in only 10 days in June. The Dow hit its lowest point on Oct. 9, 2002, closing at 7,286.27.

Alex Wright // Flickr

2003

– Population: 290.1 million
– CPI annual average: 184 (+2.3% annual change)
– GDP: $15,996 billion ($55,139 per capita)
– Federal debt: $9,394,215 million (58.7% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.7%
– Median household income: $73,208

Congress passed the Jobs and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act on May 23, 2003, to speed up recovery post-recession by lowering taxes and giving tax breaks to businesses. This legislation was useful in the short term, as it funneled money toward investors and consumers, but lower taxes eventually caused federal debt to double under the George W. Bush administration.

Spencer Platt // Getty Images

2004

– Population: 292.8 million
– CPI annual average: 188.9 (+2.7% annual change)
– GDP: $16,616 billion ($56,746 per capita)
– Federal debt: $9,955,457 million (59.9% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.4%
– Median household income: $73,178

The U.S. economy grew back following the dotcom recession of the early 2000s, but its growth was slower than expected in 2004. The GDP grew by about 4%, but most of the growth went toward the upper class: The income of the top 1% grew by 12% while the income of the bottom 99% only grew by 1.5%, and the median family income fell.

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Orygun // Wikimedia Commons

2005

– Population: 295.5 million
– CPI annual average: 195.3 (+3.4% annual change)
– GDP: $17,143 billion ($58,011 per capita)
– Federal debt: $10,350,155 million (60.4% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.9%
– Median household income: $73,573

At the end of 2005, the slow-growing economy took a sharp downturn as consumers cut spending on cars, business investment slowed, the price of oil surged, and military spending fell. Some economists also began to worry that the housing bubble might soon burst.

shankar s. // Flickr

2006

– Population: 298.4 million
– CPI annual average: 201.6 (+3.2% annual change)
– GDP: $17,574 billion ($58,899 per capita)
– Federal debt: $10,719,297 million (61% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.4%
– Median household income: $74,081

GDP rose 3.4% in 2006 in spite of high interest rates and oil prices. The service industry continued to grow and average wages rose, but the housing boom had ended, leading to major job losses in related industries. Furthermore, the federal government continued to run large deficits.

SusanLesch // Wikimedia Commons

2007

– Population: 301.2 million
– CPI annual average: 207.3 (+2.9% annual change)
– GDP: $17,858 billion ($59,283 per capita)
– Federal debt: $11,040,546 million (61.8% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5%
– Median household income: $75,680

The U.S. economy appeared to stabilize in 2007 until late that summer, when the public became aware mortgage debt was a much shakier ground for investment than banks had realized. This realization led to a crisis of confidence: No bank knew how much other banks were impacted by shaky credit, and so no bank wanted to trade with any other.

Teri Tynes // Flickr

2008

– Population: 304.1 million
– CPI annual average: 215.3 (+3.8% annual change)
– GDP: $17,480 billion ($57,484 per capita)
– Federal debt: $11,859,922 million (67.8% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 7.3%
– Median household income: $73,065

The mortgage crisis came to a head on Sept. 14, 2008, when one major securities firm, Merrill Lynch, sold itself to Bank of America, and another, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy. These two firms were followed by near-bankruptcies of many other banks previously deemed “too big to fail” in the U.S. and around the world, which had to be bailed out by their governments.

PFHLai // Wikimedia Commons

2009

– Population: 306.8 million
– CPI annual average: 214.5 (-0.4% annual change)
– GDP: $17,188 billion ($56,029 per capita)
– Federal debt: $14,156,900 million (82.4% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 9.9%
– Median household income: $71,629

The banking crisis in the spring of 2009 became a national public crisis on a global scale. Debtor nations such as the U.S. and Greece were unable to pay back creditor nations such as China and Germany, and there was little international cooperation underway to push towards recovery. U.S. unemployment peaked at 10% in October. President Barack Obama, despite a bold inauguration speech and expensive Recovery Act, was not very popular by the end of the year.

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SecretName101 // Wikimedia Commons

2010

– Population: 309.3 million
– CPI annual average: 218.1 (+1.6% annual change)
– GDP: $17,544 billion ($56,714 per capita)
– Federal debt: $15,861,146 million (90.4% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 9.3%
– Median household income: $70,621

Troubles continued for the U.S. economy in 2010, but legislators took steps toward recovery with the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, which gave incentives for employers to take on new employees, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which put into place extensive reform and regulation measures on Wall Street. In the third quarter of this year, American companies made a record $1.66 trillion, but the average worker was still struggling; unemployment at the end of the year was 9.3%.

David Shankbone // Wikimedia Commons

2011

– Population: 311.7 million
– CPI annual average: 224.9 (+3.2% annual change)
– GDP: $17,643 billion ($56,609 per capita)
– Federal debt: $16,786,179 million (95.1% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 8.5%
– Median household income: $69,324

The economy grew slowly in 2011. Congress took from April to August to pass a budget for the next fiscal year, cutting $38 billion and narrowly avoiding a government shutdown. Occupy Wall Street protests began that fall, calling attention to the centralization of wealth among the top 1% of Americans.

Wikifreund // Wikimedia Commons

2012

– Population: 314 million
– CPI annual average: 229.6 (+2.1% annual change)
– GDP: $17,992 billion ($57,299 per capita)
– Federal debt: $17,875,525 million (99.4% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 7.9%
– Median household income: $69,316

GDP growth increased slightly from 1.8% in 2011 to 2.2% in 2012. Unemployment remained high (8.5% at the end of the year), yet no legislation was passed to create new jobs. The situation was not helped by Hurricane Sandy, which hit New Jersey and New York in late October to the tune of at least 650,000 homes destroyed and $71.5 billion in economic damage.

Justin Sullivan // Getty Images

2013

– Population: 316.2 million
– CPI annual average: 233 (+1.5% annual change)
– GDP: $18,318 billion ($57,930 per capita)
– Federal debt: $18,348,323 million (100.2% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 6.7%
– Median household income: $70,032

After stagnating for most of 2013, the economy grew significantly in the final quarter of the year. This boom was largely due to consumer spending: MarketWatch reported that spending on services rose 2.5% and spending on cars, computers, and other long-lasting goods rose 5.9%.

LaDawna Howard // Flickr

2014

– Population: 318.6 million
– CPI annual average: 236.7 (+1.6% annual change)
– GDP: $18,827 billion ($59,098 per capita)
– Federal debt: $19,222,853 million (102.1% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5.6%
– Median household income: $71,981

Economic recovery was going strong in 2014; economists called it the biggest year for job grown in five years. The GDP also continued to rise (albeit slowly), and the Affordable Care Act took effect, benefitting more than 30 million Americans by the end of the year.

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Eduardo P // Wikimedia Commons

2015

– Population: 320.9 million
– CPI annual average: 237 (+0.1% annual change)
– GDP: $19,550 billion ($60,925 per capita)
– Federal debt: $19,549,836 million (100.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 5%
– Median household income: $76,275

GDP saw decent expansion in 2015 while the financial market suffered, particularly in the energy industry. Gus Faucher, deputy chief economist at the PNC Financial Services Group, reported: “Of the overall $160 billion annualized decline in profits, $124 billion came from petroleum and coal products.” In the tech industry, Radio Shack filed its second bankruptcy in two years.

Gage Skidmore // Flickr

2016

– Population: 323.1 million
– CPI annual average: 240 (+1.3% annual change)
– GDP: $19,843 billion ($61,409 per capita)
– Federal debt: $20,704,583 million (104.3% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.7%
– Median household income: $77,463

The economy grew more slowly in 2016; in the final quarter of the year, GDP grew at a rate of 1.9%, its slowest pace since recession-era 2011. In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to cut taxes and regulations in order to boost growth to 4%.

The White House // Wikimedia Commons

2017

– Population: 325.1 million
– CPI annual average: 245.1 (+2.1% annual change)
– GDP: $20,225 billion ($62,210 per capita)
– Federal debt: $21,020,831 million (103.9% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 4.1%
– Median household income: $79,222

Unemployment in 2017 fell to 4.1%, its lowest rate in more than 15 years. The GDP grew more, and the S&P 500 delivered total returns every month for the first time in its history. While the Trump administration has publicly taken credit for these victories, analysts at the Harvard Business School have suggested that these figures are, in fact, due to trends carrying over from Obama’s presidency.

MB298 // Wikimedia Commons

2018

– Population: 327.2 million
– CPI annual average: 251.1 (+2.4% annual change)
– GDP: $20,957 billion ($64,050 per capita)
– Federal debt: $21,910,262 million (104.5% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.9%
– Median household income: $80,087

In spite of $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and a dramatic jump in government spending (the budget deficit climbed by 17% to $113 billion), economic growth did not reach a targeted 3%. That said, fourth-quarter growth boosted domestic product for the year to 2.9%.

The White House // Flickr

2019

– Population: 329.1 million
– CPI annual average: 255.7 (+1.8% annual change)
– GDP: $21,427 billion ($65,108 per capita)
– Federal debt: $22,719,400 million (106.0% of GDP)
– Unemployment rate: 3.5%
– Median household income: not available

America’s GDP in the fourth quarter of 2019 rose 2.1%, according to data from the BEA, on the heels of a 2.1% increase in the third quarter. Overall GDP growth for the year was 2.2%, and expected to slow to 2% in 2020. Those projections don’t take into account the COVID-19 pandemic, however, which is expected to throw the U.S. into a recession. Ominously, economists published a study in the autumn of 2019 that a pandemic could flatten the U.S. economy and threaten half a million lives.

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