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The unemployment rate the year you turned 16

  • 1949

    - 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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  • 1950

    - 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.]

  • 1951

    - 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.]

  • 1952

    - 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.

  • 1953

    - 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.]

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  • 1954

    - 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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  • 1955

    - 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.]

  • 1956

    - 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.]

  • 1957

    - 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.]

  • 1958

    - 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.]

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