The unemployment rate the year you turned 16

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October 16, 2020
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The unemployment rate the year you turned 16

COVID-19 forced millions of Americans into the ranks of the unemployed overnight. Nationally, the unemployment rate this year so far peaked in April at 14.7%; by September the rate had fallen to 7.9%, with employers adding fewer jobs than in previous months and signaling that improvement in the labor market was losing steam.

To contextualize these rises and falls, Stacker researched the unemployment rates back to 1929 using the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as the main source for U.S. unemployment rates between 1940 and 2019. Prior to 1947, the BLS considered adolescent laborers at least 14 years old in unemployment totals. In 1947, the BLS changed the law and only began accounting for people 16 and older. Then and now, the BLS counts individuals as unemployed if they are currently jobless, looking for a job, and available for work.

BLS didn’t estimate unemployment rates from 1929 to 1939, until the 1940s, when reports were based on data from several sources. Rates for those years are therefore approximations, and there are no monthly estimates for that decade.

One obvious trend in the rise and fall of unemployment over the years is the federal government’s immediate assistance if need be. When more than 6% of Americans cannot find work, the federal government steps in to bring the number down in different ways, from tax cuts to the Fed adjusting interest rates to fight inflation. For example, COVID-19 stimulus checks were sent out to Americans in order to keep the economy somewhat stable during the first wave of the inevitable job losses.

Along with each year’s unemployment rate, information about programs or events that may have an effect on the overall rate was included. Read on to find out the unemployment rate the year you turned 16.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 3.2%

The stock market crash in October of 1929 was the match that sparked the Great Depression. Going into that crash, the country’s unemployment rate was at a healthy—and low—3.2%. The Great Depression caused ballooning rates of unemployment over the next several years.


- Annual unemployment rate: 8.7%

The unemployment rate almost tripled in one year as the U.S. sank into a deep depression. In 1930, GDP growth slumped to -8.5% while inflation fell to -6.4%. Exacerbating economic woes was the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, which slapped 900 import tariffs with increased rates of up to 48% and ground trade to a virtual halt.


- Annual unemployment rate: 15.9%

Unemployment in 1931 almost doubled as the Dust Bowl claimed 7,000 lives and put even more Americans out of work. The Dust Bowl—caused by a combination of drought and unsustainable farming practices—rendered almost 100 million acres in the Southern Plains unworkable and unlivable.


- Annual unemployment rate: 23.6%

President Herbert Hoover in 1932 called for a temporary tax increase that proved insurmountable for many Americans. The highest income tax rate jumped from 25% to 63% while the lowest tax rate jumped from 1.1% to 4%. The increases served to further balloon the unemployment rate, while significantly reducing the amount of revenue collected from individual income tax.


- Annual unemployment rate: 24.9%

1933 represents the worst unemployment rate in U.S. history since records have been kept, second only to April 2020 numbers amid the coronavirus pandemic. To help dig the country out of the Great Depression, that year President Franklin D. Roosevelt rolled out the New Deal.


- Annual unemployment rate: 21.7%

Enacting the New Deal immediately eased some of the economic woes throughout the U.S., bringing GDP growth that year out of negative numbers—to 10.8%— for the first time since the Great Depression hit. The unemployment rate dipped and was followed by three years of more-significant drops.


- Annual unemployment rate: 20.1%

Unemployment continued notching down in 1935, although in 1934 and 1935 recovery out of the Great Depression had largely come to a standstill. When the Supreme Court deemed the National Recovery Administration (NRA) unconstitutional, American industries were able to grow production unfettered. American recovery gained momentum later in the year.


- Annual unemployment rate: 16.9%

President Roosevelt requested from Congress $1.5 billion for the relief effort, following up on aid already requested the year prior. 1936 also brought with it a new presidential election, that Roosevelt won against his challenger, Kansas Republican Gov. Alf Landon.


- Annual unemployment rate: 14.3%

Spending cuts in 1937 resulted in significant drops in manufacturing (37%) that dropped down to 1934 levels. The "Roosevelt recession"—a period in which economic recovery stalled—lasted well into 1938.


- Annual unemployment rate: 19.0%

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938 established the first-ever minimum wage in the United States. The act further capped the American workweek at 44 hours and made child labor illegal.


- Annual unemployment rate: 17.2%

After almost 10 years, the Dust Bowl finally drew to a close in 1939. The end of droughts signaled new opportunities for farms and other industries throughout the Midwest—but not before 3.5 million people had fled the Great Plains, mostly relocating out west.


- Annual unemployment rate: 14.1%

The country was preparing for World War II when the Selective Service and Training Act of 1940 became the first peacetime draft in U.S. history. By the time the war ended in 1945, more than 10 million American men between 18 and 45 years old had been drafted.

[Pictured: Crowd reading war map in front of Philadelphia Bulletin Newspaper.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 10%

The Great Depression, which lasted until the end of the 1930s, caused the highest unemployment rate, with more than 20% of Americans out of work. By 1941, the rate dropped to half that, directly due to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a series of programs designed to energize the American economy in the ‘30s.


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.7%

The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought on the industrial production of World War II, putting thousands back to work while dropping the unemployment rate by more than 5%. The wartime draft also reduced the rate, with thousands of men now employed as soldiers for the federal government.

[Pictured: North American B-25 bomber is prepared for painting on an outside assembly line, Inglewood, California, 1942.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 1.9%

The U.S. tripled its defense while battling the Japanese, lowering the unemployment rate significantly in one year. Battle-time prosperity brought on growth and production, which also created office employees and factory workers to meet consumer demands, dropping the rate to 1.9%.

[Pictured: A Japanese American fighting unit salutes their country's flag at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, June 1943.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 1.2%

After the gold standard was weakened after World War II, a fixed exchange rate brought on by the Bretton Woods Agreement increased the value of the U.S. dollar. Its increased value led to further wealth and work, with the U.S. becoming a potent global force politically and economically with a 1.2% unemployment rate.

[Pictured: Bretton Woods Conference. John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White, founding fathers of the IMF and the World Bank, 1944.]

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- Annual unemployment rate: 1.9%

As the U.S. ended the war with the Japanese in 1945, unemployment began to rise, leveling off with the minimum wage at 40 cents. Though the strong “command economy” was thriving, the release of more than 20 million servicemen from 1945 to 1947 took jobs away from civilians who were working while soldiers were overseas.


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.0%

The Employment Act of 1946, enacted by President Harry Truman, promised to promote maximum employment through production and purchasing power. Though it didn’t set forth specific programs to increase employment, federal policy would follow the guidelines laid out in it for decades.


- Annual unemployment rate: 3.9%

A 14% inflation rate and rising unemployment turned the tides of American finance by 1947, and the Marshall Plan would be drafted and enacted a year later. Also called the European Recovery Program, the U.S. plan loaned the continent over $15 billion dollars to rebuild, helping to blunt the destruction of World War II.

[Pictured: Gen. George Marshall examines the last articles of his Plan in Washington,1947.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 3.8%

When Truman was reelected in 1948, the unemployment rate dropped by 0.1%. Truman announced his Fair Deal in January, promoting nationwide health coverage, civil rights reform, and a hike in the minimum wage, only some of which made it to law.


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.9%

With soldiers returning home from World War II, unemployment doubled and brought on the 1949 recession. Additionally, in 1949, child labor laws were enforced with the Fair Labor Standards Act, which also established the minimum wage and overtime pay.

[Pictured: President Harry Truman marching in a veterans parade, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1949.]

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- Annual unemployment rate: 5.3%

The Korean War, which lasted between 1950–53, cost $30 billion dollars ($276 billion in today's dollars), but battle time production dropped the unemployment rate by 0.6% from the prior year. Additionally, the GDP doubled, causing growth in consumer demand, helping spur even more employment.

[Pictured: The first sailors to be called to active duty in Oakland for the Korean War, 1950.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 3.3%

After the European Payment Union formed in 1950, the Golden Age of Capitalism began, with Post-World War II wealth bringing jobs back, dropping the unemployment rate 2% in one year. The economic expansion caused a boom of regeneration, construction, and security unlike anything before, giving birth to the American Dream and creating the middle class.

[Pictured: Construction crew near new Union Station, Los Angeles, California, 1951.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 3.0%

By 1952, the economic boom reverberated, dropping the unemployment rate another 0.3% as more Americans sought the dream of family and home. In the early 1950s, the GDP increased $1 trillion due to U.S. growth, which would continue to be strong into the next year, lowering unemployment even further.


- Annual unemployment rate: 2.9%

The Korean War ended, and post-wartime production added to the economic boom by 1953, dropping unemployment from 3% the prior year to 2.9%. Middle-class America held a plethora of popular jobs that made up much of the labor force of the time, from milkmen to bus drivers.

[Pictured: A vendor sells hotdogs for 20 cents at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York, 1953.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.5%

The Dow Jones returned to pre-1929 levels, though the unemployment rate would nearly double from 1953. President Dwight Eisenhower signed federal unemployment insurance legislation, providing unemployment benefits for more than 3 million Americans.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 4.4%

In 1954, 48 states adopted similar unemployment insurance regulations as set forth in federal guidelines. Many of the bills relaxed contribution requirements and raised the maximum benefit levels.

[Pictured: Street scene on Maxwell Street near Halsted Street, Chicago, Illinois, 1955.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.1%

While the U.S. minimum wage rose from 75 cents hourly to $1, up 25 cents from the 1950 rate, the jobless rate dropped slightly. The increased minimum wage was the first time a two-family household could stay out of poverty earning minimum wage.

[Pictured: A scene of daily life on West 119th Street in Harlem, New York, 1956.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.3%

1957 was the beginning of the “Eisenhower Recession” that bumped up the unemployment rate 2.5% within two years. While the recession saw unemployment rates increase directly due to less motor vehicle production and housing construction, the flu killed up to 70,000 Americans, which caused a decline in the GDP.

[Pictured: Automatic transfer machine completes the cores in the Chevrolet V-8 engine, Flint, Michigan, 1957.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 6.8%

The second year of the two-year recession saw significantly higher unemployment rates, exceeding the post-WWII high of 5.9%. With more than 5 million lost jobs that cut the U.S. workforce by almost 7%, the 1958 recession caused the federal government to lighten up on mortgage lending to propel construction jobs, as well as extend more unemployment benefits to citizens.

[Pictured: Construction of the Pan American Airways Building in New York.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.5%

After the two-year recession, economic expansion ignited, creating jobs and causing the unemployment rate to drop 1.3% in one year. Global growth and increased wages helped spur the economy, providing more jobs in the U.S. that year.

[Pictured: Idle machines at the Fairchild Aviation engine division plant in Deer Park, New York, after 2,000 workers were laid off, 1959.]

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- Annual unemployment rate: 5.5%

The jobless rate remained at 5.5% for a second year in 1960, when the economy slowly started to decline due to stricter monetary policies implemented in order to control inflation. 1960’s recession lasted for 10 months until February 1961.


- Annual unemployment rate: 6.7%

While the 1960–61 recession ended in February 1961, the unemployment rate didn’t follow suit right away, peaking in May 1961 before declining to 6% by December 1961. This year, President John F. Kennedy raised the minimum wage to $1.15 hourly, up 15 cents, as well as adding additional unemployment and social security benefits for working Americans.


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.5%

The Cuban Missile Crisis spurred wartime production, dropping the unemployment rate 1.2% in 1962, when the U.S. prepared for nuclear war with the Soviet Union before President Kennedy negotiated peace. While 5.5% of Americans were out of work this year, those employed full-time were averaging $5,556 a year.


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.7%

After taking office, President Lyndon B. Johnson set forth monumental economic policies, which would slowly bring the unemployment rate down each year he served. Along with a rise in the GDP, an increase in the minimum wage to $1.25 hourly, and no recession, the existing labor force was strong, with some of the most popular jobs being factory work, nursing, and teaching.


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.2%

The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 proposed to end the War on Poverty declared by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The program would fund vocational programs and extend loans to farmers and small businesses in an effort to grow the economy fairly throughout the U.S. The unemployment rate, down 0.5% from the previous year, would slowly continue to decline under Johnson’s administration.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 4.5%

As the U.S. entered the Vietnam War, wartime production would drop the unemployment rate by 0.7% in a year, with more jobs available due to servicemen deploying overseas. Additionally, wartime production propelled the economy and created jobs, while the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission simultaneously prohibited workplace discrimination based on race, sex, and religion.


- Annual unemployment rate: 3.8%

In 1966, the U.S. had spent up to $12 billion on the Vietnam War, and by the turn of 1965–66, the GNP was averaging $705 billion annually, with around 8% of it dedicated to the U.S. military budget. In 1966, the approximately 80 million people working averaged an estimated full-time median family income of $7,400, a new high.


- Annual unemployment rate: 3.8%

Employment was so strong in the U.S., the minimum wage was raised to $1.40 hourly, up 15 cents from the 1963 increase. The total GDP rose $11.4 billion by 1967, with consumer demand and production stabilizing the unemployment rate at the same percent as the year prior.


- Annual unemployment rate: 3.6%

The U.S. economy’s fortitude remained, with unemployment dropping 0.2% in one year, and the minimum wage rising another 20 cents, bumping up the average American pay to 35 cents an hour in less than two years. Jobs were abounding and paying well for U.S. workers, who labored hard while the country was fighting the Vietnam War.


- Annual unemployment rate: 3.5%

Dropping another 0.1%, the U.S. unemployment rate in 1969 reflected the fruits of the country's economy, but that would soon change due to the Vietnam War deficit incurred over almost a decade of overseas battle. When President Richard Nixon took office this year, the U.S. would begin to enter the 1969–70 recession, with unemployment rising quickly after.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 4.9%

The U.S. recession in 1970 bumped joblessness up 1.4% in one year. Business Insider likened the state of the economy in 1970 to that of 2018, suggesting America would see the same loss of employment and recession again. While millions of jobs would cease in 1970, it would get even worse a year later.


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.9%

President Nixon signed the Emergency Employment Act in 1971, which added 150,000 new jobs to the American workforce. His efforts, along with wage and price control, would immediately begin to lower the 5.9% rate down a few notches, giving America a hopeful reprieve in terms of unemployment.



- Annual unemployment rate: 5.6%

Dropping another 0.3% by 1972, U.S. unemployment under Nixon continued to decline. However, stagflation—a combination of high joblessness and inflation tied with idle economic growth—would begin during the Watergate scandal that began this year.


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.9%

By 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) of 1973, a new federal law that mandated citizens receive schooling for public service jobs. Also, both the U.S. gold standard and the Vietnam War ended, which would greatly affect joblessness in the next two years.


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.6%

Stagflation and the end of the gold standard immediately rose unemployment by 1974, when Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Nixon’s prior economic policies became questionable, as the joblessness rate spiked significantly by nearly 3% a year later.

[Pictured: President Gerald Ford, who took over when Nixon resigned.]

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- Annual unemployment rate: 8.5%

Unemployment grew to its highest level since 1941, although the recession that began with an oil embargo in 1973 was showing signs of ending. The embargo caused the worst stock market crash since the Great Depression and lasted nearly two years. To help stem inflation and spur the economy, Congress instituted a tax cut in April 1975, and while unemployment peaked at 9% a month later, it began to fall for the remainder of the year.


- Annual unemployment rate: 7.7%

Unemployment remained high in 1976, even as the country pulled out of the recession that began in 1973. The labor force was growing, with more women and teens seeking work, and increased unemployment benefits established during the recession allowed workers to hold out for a better job. Worker registration requirements, a condition of welfare established in the early 1970s, increased the total number of unemployed.

[Pictured: American labor activist and cofounder of the United Farm Workers of America Dolores Huerta speaks at a UFW rally, California, 1975.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 7.1%

Jimmy Carter took office in January 1977, when the unemployment rate fell as the economy left the recession behind. Rapid growth in the gross national product helped roughly 7.7 million workers find new jobs by the end of the year. Inflation remained high through 1977 however, increasing from 4.9 to 6.7%.


- Annual unemployment rate: 6.1%

The unemployment rate dropped a full percentage point in 1978, but the workforce participation rate dropped to a low point that wouldn’t be reached again until 2013. Teen unemployment rose to 17.4% however, with a 15% increase in the minimum wage the previous year being one of the main factors. In October, the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978 established new goals for the Fed, including reining in inflation and reducing unemployment.

[Pictured: Boston Deputy Mayor Clarence Jones speaks to kids marching for jobs at the steps of city hall in Boston, 1978.]

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- Annual unemployment rate: 5.8%

Although the final year of the decade was nearly three percentage points lower than the 1975 high, there were signs of trouble ahead. Heavy layoffs in the auto and steel industries, rising unemployment in New York City, and slowed growth in the labor market were indicators of the recession to come. The unemployment rate among teenagers dropped to 14.3%.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 7.1%

The Fed’s efforts to fight stagflation at the end of the ‘70s led to the recession of 1980 and snowballing unemployment. The layoffs in the auto and steel industries were finally counted in the overall unemployment statistics. The economy and employment showed temporary signs of improvement at the end of 1980, though a much deeper recession was coming.


- Annual unemployment rate: 7.6%

President Ronald Reagan walked into the deepest recession since the Great Depression when he assumed the presidency in 1981. High interest rates led to steep cuts in manufacturing and construction projects, which would take their toll on the unemployment rate beginning at the end of the year. Reagan’s Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 cut tax rates for all earners.


- Annual unemployment rate: 9.7%

Unemployment rose by over 25% from 1981, with goods producers accounting for nearly 90% of all job losses. In December of 1982, unemployment reached its peak of the 1981–82 recession at 10.8%. Fed chairman Paul Volcker ignored pressure from Congress to loosen monetary policy, resulting in a 5% decline in inflation and steadying of the unemployment rate toward the end of the year.

[Pictured: Max R. Pacheco, one of the workers who had enough seniority to keep his job after layoffs at Climax mine, 1982.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 9.6%

The unemployment rate would reach its peak in the early part of 1983, a mark that wouldn’t be seen again until the Great Recession 26 years later. Increased consumer spending led overall employment to rise by 3.9 million people in 1983, with goods producers accounting for a third of the growth. Tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union led President Reagan to increase military spending as the Cold War was heating up, creating jobs in the process.


- Annual unemployment rate: 7.5%

A drop of 2.1% over the 1983 rate signaled that the recessions of the early ‘80s were in the past. By December, the country had recovered 3.5 million jobs from the low point of the downturn. Teen employment didn’t see the same gains though, reaching 18.4% overall by the end of the year, but roughly 40% for Black teens.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 7.2%

Unemployment continued to improve in 1985, with women procuring 1.4 of the 2 million jobs gained for the year. By the end of 1985, the country had experienced the best three-year period for job recovery since World War II. The unemployment rate moved below 7% in August 1985 after six consecutive months at 7.2%.


- Annual unemployment rate: 7.0%

Gradual improvements to unemployment in 1986 were mostly due to jobs in the finance and real estate fields. October’s Tax Reform Act of 1986 cut the corporate tax rate and lowered income tax rates. The real estate bubble that would set off a recession in the early ‘90s found its roots in 1986, as mortgages and credit were more readily available.


- Annual unemployment rate: 6.2%

Employment improved across the board in the first half of 1987, including the rate for teenagers, which dipped to 17%. Tax reforms passed the year prior took effect, increasing taxes on unemployment benefits. Black Monday, one of the largest drops in stock market history pre-2020, occurred on Oct. 19, but the Fed avoided an immediate recession and job losses by flooding banks with money.


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.5%

The first half of 1988 saw job growth begin to level off as the country emerged relatively unscathed from Black Monday. In an effort to fight inflation, the Fed raised rates rapidly in 1988, setting the stage for a mild recession in the early 1990s.

[Pictured: The floor of the Boston Stock Exchange, 1988.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.3%

The economy continued to grow in the first year of George H.W. Bush’s presidency, as the stock market continued to trend upward. Unemployment reached its lowest point since 1973, though the economy would begin slowing in the fourth quarter. The savings and loan crisis was the most significant banking collapse since the Great Depression, costing taxpayers more than $100 billion and setting off a mild recession.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 5.6%

The Fed’s efforts to fight inflation in the late 1980s led to a short recession in the early 1990s, starting with a slight increase in unemployment. The fallout from the Savings and Loan crisis and Black Monday was felt when Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August caused the price of oil to spike.

[Pictured: As Emir of Kuwait Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah listens, George H.W. Bush speaks to the press on the White House's South Lawn, 1991.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 6.8%

The country officially entered into war against Iraq in January and had liberated Kuwait by the end of February. The fallout, as well as the minimum wage being raised to $4.25 in April, led unemployment to jump 1.2% over 1990.

[Pictured: American medics treat a young boy's shoulder injury during the Gulf War, Iraq, 1991.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 7.5%

Unemployment bottomed out in 1992, reaching 7.8% in June and setting the stage for Bill Clinton to defeat President Bush in the November election. Before leaving office, Bush signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would ease trade restrictions with Mexico and Canada.


- Annual unemployment rate: 6.9%

Bill Clinton assumed the presidency in January and introduced the first of his economic policies, raising taxes on the highest income earners and cutting spending. NAFTA moved through Congress and the House in October 1993, eliminating tariffs between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.


- Annual unemployment rate: 6.1%

NAFTA took effect on Jan. 1, while Clinton signed the School-to-Work Opportunities Act into law in May 1994, which gave funding to every state for work-based programs. Advancements in computers led to increased investment in Silicon Valley, including the formation of Netscape and Java, setting the stage for a new employment field in technology.

[Pictured: A World Cup official (L) advises a journalist on the use of the media computer system at the Citrus Bowl press center in Orlando, 1994.]

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- Annual unemployment rate: 5.6%

The unemployment rate continued to trend downward in 1995 as the country expanded from an industrial to a service economy. A major increase in the use of home computers spurred even further development in technology, as Yahoo! was incorporated and Microsoft released its Windows 95 platform.

[Pictured: Computer enthusiasts line up for the launch of Microsoft's Windows 95 operating system, New York, 1995.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.4%

Economic expansion continued in 1996 thanks to low interest rates and low inflation, although federal employment dropped. President Bill Clinton signed welfare reform in August that aimed to promote self-sufficiency through employment. The bill added work requirements and limits to the length of benefits.


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.9%

Employment dipped below 5% for the first time since 1973, as hourly wages of nonsupervisory workers increased more than they had in 21 years. The minimum wage was pushed up in two stages from $4.25 to $5.15 by the end of the year, the last minimum-wage hike for a decade.


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.5%

Family wealth and home ownership were on their way to record highs in 1998. Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund based in Connecticut, moved to the brink of bankruptcy in 1998, forcing the Fed to ask banks to step in and bail it out.


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.2%

The teen unemployment rate fell under 14%, its lowest rate since the early 1970s, while the rate for women reached its lowest level since 1953. Tech employment saw gains as well, with large businesses spending over $100 billion to avert the Y2K crisis.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 4.0%

Ten years of economic growth came to a crashing halt with the burst of the Dot-com Bubble in 2000. The NASDAQ, which had increased five-fold since 1995, lost almost a trillion dollars in value in less than a month from March to April.


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.7%

The country officially entered a recession in March 2001, as 18 states saw their unemployment rates increase more than 1%. The September 11 attacks dropped the Dow by 700 points, only making the recession worse. The attacks on U.S. soil would be the beginning of the War on Terror, which would cost the U.S. billions to fight over the next few years.

[Pictured: Firefighters demonstrate over cutbacks in force at Ground Zero, New York, Nov. 2, 2001.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.8%

The unemployment rate reached an eight-year high as the War on Terror, which would cost $59.1 billion by 2002, began in earnest. The events of 9/11 had major effects on the airline industry, which laid off thousands of workers.


- Annual unemployment rate: 6.0%

The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA) assisted in dropping the unemployment rate 0.5% by 2004. The act would increase tax deductions for small businesses as well as speed up the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA), both of which would assist in lowering rates of joblessness.


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.5%

In 2004, economic expansion, particularly due to a good global GDP and low short-term interest rates, created more American jobs, slicing more off the already-declining unemployment percentages. The economic expansion created all types of employment positions, with the most popular being retail sales associates, registered nurses, post-secondary professors, and customer service representatives.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 5.1%

Though the good intentions of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 would assist in lowering the unemployment rate 0.4% from the prior year, it’s linked to causing the Great Recession in 2008. By the end of the year, the U.S. economy slowed; however, the unemployment rate continued to decline 0.5% to 4.6%, where it would remain for two years.


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.6%

Economic expansion in the next two years would stabilize the unemployment rate at 4.6%, but a weakening labor market and retail sales would start to slowly affect the economy. In 2006, the U.S. economy was creating around 149,000 jobs per month, but the housing boom was ending and mortgage failures were rising.

[Pictured: Terri and Bill Van Beckum in front of their foreclosed home after health challenges and his layoff in 2006.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.6%

The longest economic downturn since the Great Depression began in 2007 due largely to subprime mortgage lending and a severe Dow Jones dive, both of which decreased median U.S. income by 20% that year. Unemployment would rise 1.2% in one year, with millions of Americans losing their jobs.


- Annual unemployment rate: 5.8%

The 2008 financial crisis was in full swing and would raise the joblessness rate by 3.5% within less than a year. Despite the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, bank bailouts would still not be enough to keep the rate from rising so high in such a short time. The U.S. sliced 2.6 million jobs in 2008, causing serious financial devastation that would continue to rise along with joblessness.


- Annual unemployment rate: 9.3%

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, enacted by President Barack Obama, would assist in ending the recession by gradually giving up to $787 billion to small businesses and taxpayers. Obama also authorized the extension of unemployment benefits for up to three years, including some workers who were otherwise not entitled to receive the benefits.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 9.6%

Obama implemented tax cuts that would somewhat alleviate U.S. economic problems and assist in starting to lower the unemployment rate in the next year. Meanwhile, the states with the highest numbers of unemployment included Nevada at 14.9%, California at 12.4%, and Florida at 11.5%; and the states with the highest employment-population proportions were North Dakota at 69.8%, Nebraska at 67.7%, and South Dakota at 67.6%.

[Pictured: Contractors install solar modules in New Jersey as part of state and federal tax incentives to help commercial enterprises.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 8.9%

By 2011, up to 14 million Americans were out of work. After 26 months of job losses, the constant rise in the U.S. debt ceiling and end of the Iraq War would help alleviate unemployment, which would drop by .8% by 2012.

[Pictured: The facade of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C., on Feb. 22, 2011.]


- Annual unemployment rate: 8.1%

Quantitative easing, which enabled better small-business loans, was one reason unemployment began to decline, with more money available to hire employees. In 2012, the Congressional Budget Office implemented five tax increases and two spending cuts to take place on Jan. 1, 2013, which helped contribute to a healthier economy and inevitably helped recover jobs.


- Annual unemployment rate: 7.4%

Unemployment continued to decline, improving in every quarter of 2013 as the country recovered from the Great Recession. Congress extended unemployment benefits in January 2013 but failed to do so in December, when Recession-era protections expired.


- Annual unemployment rate: 6.2%

The economy picked up steam in 2014, adding more jobs than any year since the 1990s. Lower gas prices and a positive outlook from American consumers drove GDP up 5% in the third quarter, and the unemployment rate dipped below 6% by the end of the year.

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- Annual unemployment rate: 5.3%

The U.S. economy saw its strongest year for growth since 2005, as the GDP grew 2.9% for the year despite stalling in the fourth quarter. The unemployment rate continued to drop in 2015, though employment growth began to slow from 2014.


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.9%

The election of Donald Trump as president in November of 2016 helped unemployment reach 4.7% in the final months of the year. The economy began to slag during the year — growing at its slowest rate since 2011—but maintained a streak of seven straight years of growth. Following Trump’s election, the stock market reached all-time highs in anticipation of his economic policies.


- Annual unemployment rate: 4.4%

The unemployment rate hit its lowest level since 2000, although Hurricanes Irma and Harvey in September caused the first month of job loss in seven years. President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the end of the year, paving the way for unemployment to dip below 4% for the first time since 1969.


- Annual unemployment rate: 3.9%

Neil Armstrong had only just returned from the moon the last time the U.S. job market was this strong. The simplification of the tax code through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act left more disposable income for Americans, although wage growth began to slow. The government shutdown in December was the longest in American history.


- Annual unemployment rate: 3.7%

Unemployment reached its lowest rate since 1969, but wages slipped in September for the first time in nearly two years. Despite that, workers were showing confidence in the job market as well, with the level of people leaving jobs reaching its highest mark in 17 years. Trade wars between the U.S. and China prevented the unemployment rate from going even lower, as it cost roughly 300,000 jobs.

[Pictured: U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a roundtable discussion with small business owners at the White House Dec. 6, 2019, in Washington D.C., 2019.]

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- Unemployment rate (September 2020): 7.9%

The impacts of COVID-19 roiled employment numbers in 2020, with the unemployment rate jumping from 4.4% in March to 14.7% in April. Those numbers improved in subsequent months, but the most recent report of September's unemployment rate shows the economy remains sluggish and the improving rates of unemployment may be losing momentum. 

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