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The unemployment rate the year you turned 16

  • 1939

    - 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.

  • 1940

    - 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.]

  • 1941

    - 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.

  • 1942

    - 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.]

  • 1943

    - 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.]

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  • 1944

    - 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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  • 1945

    - 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.

  • 1946

    - 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.

  • 1947

    - 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.]

  • 1948

    - 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.

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