US budget deficit the year you were born
US budget deficit the year you were born
Politicians discuss the national deficit and debt on a regular basis. It’s important to know where these numbers fall, since they can help—or hinder—a president’s hopes for reelection. The national debt can also illustrate where the country stands financially, often reflecting the spending that may have shifted to ongoing wars, the cutbacks when a new president takes office, or the overall financial health of the country’s people.
In order to collect the U.S. budget deficit for every year since 1921, Stacker consulted multiple sources. Data from the Office of Management and Budget was used for fiscal years 1921 to 2015. For data from 2016 to 2019, reports from Monthly Treasury Statements were compiled by USAspending.gov. Given the uncertain circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 deficit was sourced from a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office. U.S. debt data was obtained from the Treasury Department. GDP data was obtained from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (1929-2019) and “What Was the GDP Then?” study by Samuel H. Williamson (1920-1928).
Fans of history, politics, finance, and national events will enjoy this trip through U.S. history, as the roller coaster that is the budget deficit is explored. Uncover years of budget surplus, and the falls from grace that led the country into recessions—and depressions.
Follow along as the nation fights wars, explores space, and fights for civil rights. Be reminded of the moments you can never forget, the summer you wish you could remember, and the year that started it all for you.
Start reading at the beginning, or work your way back from 2020. Follow the money, and see where it leads you.
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1921: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- Budget surplus: $509 million (0.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $24 billion (32.3% of GDP)
Congress approved the burial of an unknown soldier from World War I in Arlington National Cemetery in March. It became the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, and continues to represent all American service members and their sacrifices. The same year, New York Yankee pitcher Babe Ruth broke a home-run record with 139 single career home runs.
1922: Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act
- Budget surplus: $736 million (1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $23 billion (31% of GDP)
In an attempt to increase profits for U.S. businesses, President Warren G. Harding signed the Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act, which placed a large tariff on imports. It worked for a while, until foreign countries used the same tactic, raising tariffs on American imports.
1923: Yankee Stadium opens
- Budget surplus: $713 million (0.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $22.3 billion (25.9% of GDP)
In a much-needed distraction, Yankee Stadium opened its doors, welcoming baseball fans into the largest stadium at the time. The first game was between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
1924: Immigration stops through Ellis Island
- Budget surplus: $963 million (1.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $21.3 billion (24.2% of GDP)
After the Immigration Act of 1924, which placed limits on immigration, the station at Ellis Island transitioned to a place of detainment or deportation for illegal immigrants. Others arriving through New York City port were processed aboard arriving ships. In Ellis Island’s history, more than 12 million people passed through on their way to America.
1925: USS Shenandoah crashes
- Budget surplus: $717 million (0.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $20.5 billion (22.4% of GDP)
The U.S. Navy’s helium-filled airship, the USS Shenandoah, gained notoriety for completing a transcontinental flight in 1924. When it crashed in Ohio, killing 14 crewmembers, in 1925, it signaled the impending end of airships and a turn toward more airplane travel.
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1926: 40-hour workweek adopted
- Budget surplus: $865 million (0.9% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $19.6 billion (20.1% of GDP)
Ford Motor Company’s Henry Ford announced a decision in 1926 that changed employment forever. Workers who had previously been working six days a week now worked five, eight-hour days. Other companies adopted Ford’s 40-hour work week, and the country never looked back.
1927: Great Mississippi flood
- Budget surplus: $1.2 billion (1.2% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $18.5 billion (19.2% of GDP)
Considered one of the worst natural disasters for the United States, the Mississippi River Flood of 1927 submerged 23,000 square miles of the United States under water. Nearly one million people were left without food or clean water. The flood led many to migrate north, while the government planned to build additional levees and waterways.
1928: Discovery of penicillin
- Budget surplus: $939 million (1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $17.6 billion (17.9% of GDP)
Scottish researcher Sir Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin in 1928 when he returned from vacation to find a mold growing on one of his culture plates. The discovery resulted in the world’s most popular antibiotic, which is still used today.
1929: Stock market crash
- Budget surplus: $734 million (0.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $16.9 billion (16.2% of GDP)
On Oct. 28, what went down in history as Black Monday, struck the stock market. The Dow declined 13%, and by mid-November, lost almost half its value. The market didn’t see a recovery until November 1954.
1930: Smoot-Hawley Act
- Budget surplus: $738 million (0.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $16.2 billion (17.6% of GDP)
Responding to the stock market crash of 1929, President Herbert Hoover signed into law the Smoot-Hawley Act, which imposed additional tariffs of 20% on imported goods. As with the Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act of 1922, foreign governments were swift to retaliate.
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1931: Dust Bowl years
- Budget deficit: $462 million (0.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $16.8 billion (21.7% of GDP)
A massive drought set off a series of events that lasted throughout the 1930s in the Midwest and Great Plains of the United States. In 1931, over-plowed farmlands began to blow away, creating dust storms. Four years after the drought began, more than 35 million acres of land was left unfarmable.
1932: Hoover tax hike
- Budget deficit: $2.7 billion (4.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $19.5 billion (32.7% of GDP)
In an attempt to balance the budget, President Herbert Hoover introduced the Revenue Act of 1932. Taxes got a massive hike, which did not help the budget, and also decreased consumer spending.
1933: FDR’s New Deal
- Budget deficit: $2.6 billion (4.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $22.5 billion (39.4% of GDP)
While aiming to help with economic recovery, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal included the Works Plan Administration (WPA), which hired unemployed citizens to work on government buildings, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), to construct power plants and dams in depressed areas. The same year, prohibition ended.
1934: Alcatraz opens
- Budget deficit: $3.6 billion (5.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $27.1 billion (40.5% of GDP)
Situated offshore from San Francisco, Alcatraz prison was built on an island, and designed to hold the country’s most dangerous criminals. The prison closed in 1963 due to operational costs compared to other facilities, and is now a popular National Park Service site.
1935: Social Security begins
- Budget deficit: $2.8 billion (3.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $28.7 billion (38.7% of GDP)
After years of suffering from the Great Depression, many U.S. citizens wanted help from the government. President Roosevelt asked Congress for “social security” legislation. Eventually, the bill passed and was signed into law in August. The same year, the Hoover Dam was completed, helping to distribute water to future metropolitan cities.
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1936: Spanish Civil War
- Budget deficit: $4.3 billion (5.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $33.8 billion (39.8% of GDP)
Beginning in 1936, and lasting for three years, the Spanish Civil War was a revolt against the Republican government of Spain. The rebels, or Nationalists, were aided by Italy and Germany, while the Republicans gained support from the Soviet Union and American and European volunteers.
1937: First commercial flight
- Budget deficit: $2.2 billion (2.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $36.4 billion (39.2% of GDP)
Pan Am airlines took its first commercial flight across the Pacific Ocean in April. The same year, the German airship Hindenburg caught fire over New Jersey, killing 35 onboard, and ending the reign of the zeppelins.
1938: March of Dimes established
- Budget deficit: $89 million (0.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $37.2 billion (42.5% of GDP)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the March of Dimes, an organization to help fight infant polio, in January. The Treaty of Munich was signed in September, forcing Czechoslovakia to give territory to Germany.
1939: World War II begins
- Budget deficit: $2.8 billion (3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $40.4 billion (43.3% of GDP)
Germany invaded Poland in September, starting World War II. The United States joined the war in 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
1940: FDR gets third term
- Budget deficit: $2.9 billion (2.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $43 billion (41.8% of GDP)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt snags a third term as president. In the same year, a peacetime military draft was signed by FDR.
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1941: Pearl Harbor
- Budget deficit: $4.9 billion (3.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $49 billion (37.9% of GDP)
The U.S. military base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked by the Japanese, forcing the United States to join the war. Italy and Germany declared war on the United States the same year, and Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill, to provide financial aid to World War II veterans.
1942: Draft age lowered
- Budget deficit: $20.5 billion (12.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $72.4 billion (43.6% of GDP)
Due to the war, the military draft age was decreased, from 21 to 18. The Battle of Midway took place between Japan and the United States in June.
1943: Battle of the Bismarck Sea
- Budget deficit: $54.6 billion (26.9% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $136.7 billion (67.3% of GDP)
U.S. bombers, assisted by Australian fighters, successfully destroyed eight Japanese troop transports, four Japanese destroyers, and 102 Japanese fighter jets in the Bismarck Sea in March.
1944: Invasion of Normandy
- Budget deficit: $47.6 billion (21.2% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $201 billion (89.6% of GDP)
On what would come to be known as D-Day, 156,000 American, Canadian, and British troops landed on the beach in Normandy, France. The ensuing Battle of Normandy led to Western Europe’s liberation from Nazi Germany.
1945: World War II ends
- Budget deficit: $47.6 billion (20.9% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $258.7 billion (113.5% of GDP)
In August, U.S. forces bombed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, bringing an end to World War II. In the same year, the Nuremberg Trials began in Germany, bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.
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1946: Cold War begins
- Budget deficit: $15.9 billion (7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $269.4 billion (118.4% of GDP)
The Cold War, an ongoing feud between the United States and Soviet Union, began just after World War II and continued for years. In December of 1946, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was established.
1947: The Truman Doctrine
- Budget surplus: $4 billion (1.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $258.3 billion (103.5% of GDP)
President Truman committed to assisting democratic nations threatened by authoritarian forces, in order to protect international peace and U.S. security. He requested, and received, $400 million from Congress in order to help protect democracy in Turkey and Greece.
1948: Marshall Plan
- Budget surplus: $11.8 billion (4.3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $252.3 billion (91.9% of GDP)
Also referred to as the European Recovery Program, the Marshall Plan was enacted to help rebuild Europe after World War II. Within three years, almost all countries involved grew their economies.
1949: NATO created
- Budget surplus: $580 million (0.2% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $252.8 billion (92.8% of GDP)
In an attempt to protect signing nations against the Soviet Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was jointly created by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations. All agreed that if one was attacked, it was considered an attack on all of them.
1950: Korean War
- Budget deficit: $3.1 billion (1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $257.4 billion (85.8% of GDP)
The Korean War began in June, when North Korea, supplied and aided by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea. More than five million people died—half of which were civilians—before the war ended in 1953.
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1951: B-52 bomber ordered
- Budget surplus: $6.1 billion (1.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $255.2 billion (73.6% of GDP)
In the same year that color television made its debut on CBS, the U.S. Airforce ordered B-52 bombers from Boeing. The bombers are still used in combat today, and can deploy nuclear and conventional weapons.
1952: Hydrogen bomb
- Budget deficit: $1.5 billion (0.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $259.1 billion (70.5% of GDP)
The United States tested the world’s first hydrogen bomb, detonating it on an island in the Pacific. In November, Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president, and Republicans gained control of Congress and the White House.
1953: The Queen’s coronation
- Budget deficit: $6.5 billion (1.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $266.1 billion (68.4% of GDP)
President Truman announced in January that the United States had developed a hydrogen bomb, and later in the month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn into office. Queen Elizabeth II received her crown, and Soviet politician Joseph Stalin died.
1954: Polio vaccine trial
- Budget deficit: $1.2 billion (0.3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $271.3 billion (69.5% of GDP)
In April, 1.3 million school children participated in a random, double-blind trial of a new polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. The next year, scientists announced that the test was a success, with the trial showing an 80% to 90% success rate.
1955: Vietnam War begins
- Budget deficit: $3 billion (0.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $274.4 billion (64.5% of GDP)
In the same year that the Vietnam War began, President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack, Albert Einstein died, and Disneyland opened in California.
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1956: Browder v. Gayle verdict
- Budget surplus: $3.9 billion (0.9% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $272.8 billion (60.7% of GDP)
When Rosa Parks was arrested and tried for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in Alabama, it set off the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During the boycott, African American citizens were asked to avoid taking the bus, creating a strain on the transit system. It led to the Browder v. Gayle case, involving four other female victims of segregation. In the end, the court ruled that Alabama’s segregation policies were unconstitutional.
1957: Sputnik launched
- Budget surplus: $3.4 billion (0.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $270.5 billion (57.1% of GDP)
The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, in October, an action that ramped up the Cold War. Shortly after, Sputnik II carried a dog into space.
1958: NASA established
- Budget deficit: $2.8 billion (0.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $276.3 billion (57.4% of GDP)
President Eisenhower requested $125 million to transition the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) into a new National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in July. The agency's mission was based on the objectives of the National Aeronautics and Space Act.
1959: U.S. gains Alaska and Hawaii
- Budget deficit: $12.8 billion (2.5% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $284.7 billion (54.6% of GDP)
The same year that Alaska and Hawaii became official U.S. states, Playboy magazine debuted, and the Soviet Union’s Luna 2 spacecraft successfully reached, and crashed into, the moon.
1960: Birth control pill legalized
- Budget surplus: $301 million (0.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $286.3 billion (52.8% of GDP)
In May of 1960, “the pill” was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as an approved form of birth control. Black students conducted a sit-in at a Greensboro, North Carolina, diner to protest segregated seating, and President John F. Kennedy was elected in November.
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1961: First Earth orbit
- Budget deficit: $3.3 billion (0.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $289 billion (51.4% of GDP)
In April, Soviet Air Forces Pilot Yuri Gagarin became the first person to go into outer space, and orbit the Earth. The same year, President Kennedy established the Peace Corps and announced his goal to put a man on the moon.
1962: Cuban Missile Crisis
- Budget deficit: $7.1 billion (1.2% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $298.2 billion (49.4% of GDP)
When Soviet missile bases were found in Cuba, a tense confrontation began between the United States and Soviet Union, dubbed the Cuban Missile Crisis. It marked a time when many believed the two superpowers were closest to a nuclear conflict.
1963: JFK assassinated
- Budget deficit: $4.8 billion (0.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $305.9 billion (48% of GDP)
In an event that shocked the nation, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during a motorcade in Dallas, on Nov. 22. Two days later, his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot and killed by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
1964: Civil Rights Act
- Budget deficit: $5.9 billion (0.9% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $311.7 billion (45.5% of GDP)
Proposed by President Kennedy, and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought an end to segregation of public spaces and banned employment discrimination based on religion, color, sex, race, or national origin. In February of the same year, The Beatles appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show.
1965: Voting Rights Act
- Budget deficit: $1.4 billion (0.2% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $317.3 billion (42.7% of GDP)
Signed into law on Aug. 6 by President Johnson, the Voting Rights Act was put in place to remove the barriers at state and local levels that had been preventing African Americans from voting. Protests against the Vietnam War gained momentum.
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1966: Anti-Vietnam War protests
- Budget deficit: $3.7 billion (0.5% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $319.9 billion (39.3% of GDP)
Protests against the Vietnam War expanded, as cities across the United States held multi-day gatherings to demonstrate against the war. Meanwhile, U.S. planes bombed Hanoi and Haiphong in Vietnam.
1967: Summer of love
- Budget deficit: $8.6 billion (1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $326.2 billion (37.9% of GDP)
More than 100,000 young people converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, in a celebration of love, sex, drugs, and music.
1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated
- Budget deficit: $25.2 billion (2.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $347.6 billion (37% of GDP)
U.S. civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, by James Earl Ray. A week later, President Johnson signed the 1968 Civil Rights Act.
1969: Moon landing
- Budget surplus: $3.2 billion (0.3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $353.7 billion (34.8% of GDP)
Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first to walk on the moon during the Apollo 11 moon landing in July. The same year, the first “request for comments,” or RFC, signaled the birth of the internet on April 7.
1970: Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act
- Budget deficit: $2.8 billion (0.3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $370.9 billion (34.6% of GDP)
Cigarette television ads were banned when President Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act into law. The same year, the first Earth Day was celebrated in the United States, and a devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Tonghai County, China, killing more than 10,000 people.
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1971: Freeze on wages and prices
- Budget deficit: $23 billion (2% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $398.1 billion (34.2% of GDP)
In an effort to curb inflation, President Nixon put a 90-day freeze on all wages and prices in August. They went back to normal after his reelection.
1972: Nixon visits China
- Budget deficit: $23.4 billion (1.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $427.3 billion (33.4% of GDP)
In February, Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China. The same year, Hurricane Agnes blew through 15 states, leaving behind $3 billion in damages, and Ray Tomlinson invented email.
1973: Roe v. Wade
- Budget deficit: $14.9 billion (1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $458.1 billion (32.1% of GDP)
In a historic decision, the Supreme Court ruled to legalize abortion in the case of Roe v. Wade. The same year, the United States ended its war with Vietnam, the World Trade Center opened in New York City, and the Senate Watergate Committee began its hearings.
1974: President Nixon resigns
- Budget deficit: $6.1 billion (0.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $475.1 billion (30.7% of GDP)
On Aug. 9, with impeachment proceedings underway, President Richard Nixon resigned his post as president, and Vice President Gerald Ford stepped in to take his place. The same year, Hank Aaron tied Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, and the Universal Product Code (UPC) was scanned for the first time.
1975: Microsoft is founded
- Budget deficit: $53.2 billion (3.2% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $533.2 billion (31.6% of GDP)
Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft in April 1975. The Rockefeller Commission, set up to investigate abuses within the CIA, recommended a congressional oversight committee on intelligence. And in Detroit, former Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa went missing.
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1976: Apple Computer is founded
- Budget deficit: $73.7 billion (3.9% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $620.4 billion (33.1% of GDP)
A year after the founding of Microsoft, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs started Apple Computer. The same year, the modern world’s deadliest earthquake struck Tangshan, China: The quake measured between 7.8 and 8.2 magnitude and killed more than 240,000 people. In November, Jimmy Carter became president.
1977: Energy Department
- Budget deficit: $53.7 billion (2.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $698.8 billion (33.6% of GDP)
President Jimmy Carter signed legislation to form The Department of Energy, which joined together the government’s nuclear weapon program and its other energy-related programs. The same year, George Lucas’ “Star Wars” opened in theaters, and Elvis Presley held his last concert in Indianapolis.
1978: Camp David accords
- Budget deficit: $59.2 billion (2.5% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $771.5 billion (32.8% of GDP)
After a secret meeting at Camp David, the presidential retreat, President Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords. The purpose of the accords was to have Egypt and Israel sign a formal peace treaty, and establish diplomatic relations with one another. The same year, cult leader Jim Jones led 918 followers of the Peoples Temple to murder or suicide.
1979: Flight 191
- Budget deficit: $40.7 billion (1.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $826.5 billion (31.5% of GDP)
When American Airlines Flight 191 lost its engine and crashed, just seconds after takeoff, at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it became, and remains, the deadliest passenger airline accident on American soil. The same year, an intense windstorm in Washington sank a section of the Hood Canal Bridge, and Michael Jackson released his “Off the Wall” album, selling seven million copies in the United States.
1980: The Volcker Shock
- Budget deficit: $73.8 billion (2.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $907.7 billion (31.8% of GDP)
Paul Volcker, chair of the Federal Reserve, was able to end double-digit inflation in 1980. In order to fight back against inflation, Volcker raised the federal funds rate from 10.25% to 20%, and kept it high until May of 1981. While it worked to end inflation, it also may be responsible for setting off the recession of 1981.
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1981: First female Supreme Court justice elected
- Budget deficit: $79 billion (2.5% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $997.9 billion (31.1% of GDP)
President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman justice, to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Space Shuttle Columbia took its first flight, and MTV launched.
1982: 1982 World’s Fair
- Budget deficit: $128 billion (3.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $1.1 trillion (34.2% of GDP)
Despite a recession beginning in the United States, the personal computer was awarded “Man of the Year” by Time magazine, and President Ronald Reagan kicked off the 6-month-long 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, at a cost of $46 million in bonds.
1983: U.S. embassy bombing
- Budget deficit: $207.8 billion (5.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $1.4 trillion (37.9% of GDP)
In response to the U.S. military presence in Lebanon, a suicide bomber carried out a terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut on April 18. The explosion killed 63 people, including the bomber and 17 Americans.
1984: Record-setting bank failures
- Budget deficit: $185.4 billion (4.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $1.6 trillion (38.9% of GDP)
Due, in part, to a large number of agricultural loans defaulting, 78 banks—mostly agricultural—failed in 1984. This was the largest number of insured bank failures in the FDIC’s history.
1985: Apple computer debuts
- Budget deficit: $212.3 billion (4.9% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $1.8 trillion (42% of GDP)
The first Apple Macintosh computer made its debut during a 1984 Super Bowl commercial; its cost at the time was $2,500.
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1986: Tax Reform Act
- Budget deficit: $221.2 billion (4.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $2.1 trillion (46.4% of GDP)
For the first time in U.S. income tax history, the Tax Reform Act, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, lowered the top tax rate for ordinary income and raised the bottom tax rate at the same time. The same year, the nation mourned the passing of seven Space Shuttle Challenger astronauts, as their shuttle disintegrated mid-flight, just 73 seconds after launching.
1987: Stock market crash
- Budget deficit: $149.7 billion (3.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $2.4 trillion (48.4% of GDP)
Stock prices took a sudden and severe 22% dive on Oct. 19, dropping 508 points. The aftershocks were felt in markets around the globe. After the event, referred to as Black Monday, stock exchanges implemented systems that would allow a brief suspension of trading to avoid future problems.
1988: Iran-Iraq War ends
- Budget deficit: $155.2 billion (3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $2.6 trillion (49.7% of GDP)
After eight years of fighting, and more than 500,000 lives lost, the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988. The same year, Ronald Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush was elected president.
1989: Exxon Valdez oil spill
- Budget deficit: $152.6 billion (2.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $2.9 trillion (50.6% of GDP)
In an event that resulted in negative environmental and monetary impacts for countless years to come, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound after running aground on March 24. Because of subsequent public outcry, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act in 1990. Since then, NOAA has settled 70 cases under the act, recovering $9.8 billion to counter the impact of oil spills.
1990: Desert Shield begins
- Budget deficit: $221 billion (3.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $3.2 trillion (54.2% of GDP)
After the Iraq invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, Operation Desert Shield began. The United States sent troops to Kuwait, and the United States began a major recession.
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1991: Operation Desert Storm
- Budget deficit: $269.2 billion (4.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $3.7 trillion (59.5% of GDP)
President George H. W. Bush announced the start of Operation Desert Storm, designed to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, on Jan. 15. The forces were removed, but not before hundreds of U.S. military lives were lost, with Saddam Hussein left in power.
1992: NAFTA Treaty signed
- Budget deficit: $290.3 billion (4.5% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $4.1 trillion (62.3% of GDP)
President George H.W. Bush signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), expanding free trade between the United States and Canada to also include Mexico. The same year, William Clinton became president.
1993: World Trade Center bombing
- Budget deficit: $255.1 billion (3.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $4.4 trillion (64.3% of GDP)
On Feb. 26, 1993, a terrorist attack was carried out on the World Trade Center in New York City, killing six and injuring more than 1,000 people. Six defendants were convicted, but a seventh was never captured.
1994: The Northridge earthquake
- Budget deficit: $203.2 billion (2.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $4.7 trillion (64.4% of GDP)
A 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck Northridge, California, on Jan. 17, causing damages estimated to be upward of $20 billion, making it the most expensive earthquake in U.S. history. The same year, Americans were mesmerized by a slow-speed police pursuit of O.J. Simpson in his white Ford Bronco.
1995: Mexican peso crisis
- Budget deficit: $164 billion (2.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $5 trillion (65.1% of GDP)
After a sudden devaluation of the Mexican peso in December of 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the Mexican Debt Disclosure Act of 1995, enacted by President Bill Clinton. The president and the International Monetary Fund organized a $50 billion bailout package to help remedy the situation.
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1996: Mission to Mars
- Budget deficit: $107.4 billion (1.3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $5.2 trillion (64.7% of GDP)
In the first successful mission to Mars in two decades, the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter launched in November, collecting information from the Red Planet for the next nine years. The mission provided NASA with data about not only Mars, but the rest of the solar system's inner planets.
1997: Microsoft breaks record
- Budget deficit: $21.9 billion (0.3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $5.4 trillion (63.1% of GDP)
Valued at $261 billion in 1997, Microsoft was named the world’s most valuable company. The same year, Bill Clinton was reelected president, and the U.S. Emergency Alert System (EAS) was introduced.
1998: U.S. budget surplus
- Budget surplus: $69.3 billion (0.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $5.5 trillion (61% of GDP)
For the first time in three decades, the United States saw a budget surplus in 1998. The reasons given included an improved economy and President Clinton’s 1993 budget. The same year, Google was incorporated, and WorldCom and MCI Communications merged in September in a $37 billion deal, making the resulting company, MCI WorldCom, the largest merger in history.
1999: President Clinton impeached
- Budget surplus: $125.6 billion (1.3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $5.7 trillion (58.7% of GDP)
Four years after his alleged affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky began, President Bill Clinton found himself in front of a grand jury defending himself. In December of 1999, the president was impeached.
2000: Y2K passes
- Budget surplus: $236.2 billion (2.3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $5.7 trillion (55.3% of GDP)
Despite widespread worry over possible computer malfunctions that could happen when systems switched over to the year 2000 (Y2K), nothing happened when the calendar page flipped from 1999 to 2000. The same year, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore, but the outcome was not announced at first, due to “hanging chads” on voting cards in Florida.
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2001: Terrorist attacks and War in Afghanistan
- Budget surplus: $128.2 billion (1.2% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $5.8 trillion (54.9% of GDP)
On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists associated with the group al-Qaida hijacked four U.S. planes and used them in terrorist attacks against the United States. The same year, U.S. troops began attacks on Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
2002: SARS Outbreak
- Budget deficit: $157.8 billion (1.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $6.2 trillion (56.9% of GDP)
The acute respiratory syndrome SARS first appeared in China in late 2002, and lasted through mid-2003, killing 774, with the majority of cases occurring in China and Hong Kong. The same year, Kmart Corporation became America’s largest retailer to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
2003: Iraq War begins and Saddam Hussein captured
- Budget deficit: $377.6 billion (3.3% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $6.8 trillion (59.2% of GDP)
The Iraq War began in March, and lasted until December 2011. After nine months of hiding, former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. troops in Operation Red Dawn in December 2003.
2004: Facebook launches
- Budget deficit: $412.7 billion (3.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $7.4 trillion (60.4% of GDP)
Students at Harvard University are introduced to Facebook, a social networking site they can use to interact with one another. The same year, George W. Bush was reelected president, and oil companies enjoyed their highest profits in history, after an increase in fuel prices.
2005: Hurricane Katrina hits
- Budget deficit: $318.3 billion (2.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $7.9 trillion (60.8% of GDP)
The Gulf Coast of the United States was struck by Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 hurricane. Louisiana, which lies below sea level, was underwater. The storm killed more than 1,000 people and cost an estimated $108 billion in damage. The video-sharing website YouTube was started the same year.
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2006: U.S. population reaches 300 million
- Budget deficit: $248.2 billion (1.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $8.5 trillion (61.6% of GDP)
The population of the United States crossed 300 million in 2006, with the Census Bureau estimating that the 400 millionth person would arrive in 2043; the current number is around 330 million. The same year, Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock, and Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet.
2007: Housing bubble crisis
- Budget deficit: $160.7 billion (1.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $9 trillion (62.3% of GDP)
When ultra-low interest rates started rising, home prices across the United States dropped rapidly by 2% to 15%, causing mass home and lender foreclosures. The same year, one of the largest fires in U.S. history destroyed 2,000 structures and nearly a million acres in California, with a cost totalling almost $3 billion.
2008: The Great Recession
- Budget deficit: $458.6 billion (3.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $10 trillion (68.1% of GDP)
Lasting from December 2007 through June 2009, the Great Recession stemmed from the collapse of the housing bubble and the resulting financial crisis. President Bush signed a $700 billion bailout package called the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. In November, the United States elected the first African American president, Barack Obama.
2009: Recovery Act signed
- Budget deficit: $1.4 trillion (9.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $11.9 trillion (82.4% of GDP)
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) was signed by President Obama in February, in an attempt to stimulate the economy after the Great Recession. ARRA included $787 billion in spending for tax cuts and credits, health care and more. The same year, Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger successfully crash-landed U.S. Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River.
2010: Deepwater Horizon oil spill
- Budget deficit: $1.3 trillion (8.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $13.6 trillion (90.5% of GDP)
In a disaster still impacting the Gulf Coast today, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana in April 2010. The rig, which eventually sank, deposited more than 60,000 of oil daily into the Gulf at its peak, polluting more than 1,000 miles of shoreline.
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2011: Osama bin Laden killed
- Budget deficit: $1.3 trillion (8.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $14.8 trillion (95.2% of GDP)
President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida, resulting from a Pakistan military operation in May. The same year, protestors took to the streets of New York to rally against economic inequality in the movement called Occupy Wall Street.
2012: Hurricane Sandy hits
- Budget deficit: $1.1 trillion (6.7% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $16.1 trillion (99.2% of GDP)
The largest Atlantic hurricane on record, with winds measuring diameters of 900 miles, Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states along the East Coast and caused more than $70 billion in damages. The same year, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting resulted in 28 deaths, including the gunman.
2013: Boston Marathon bombing
- Budget deficit: $679.5 billion (4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $16.7 trillion (99.7% of GDP)
Three people were killed and several hundred injured when two Chechnya-born brothers detonated homemade pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The same year, Congress shut down for 16 days in October, when its members couldn’t agree on a budget for the next fiscal year. The shutdown affected hundreds of thousands of government employees.
2014: Retail cannabis sales begin
- Budget deficit: $484.6 billion (2.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $17.8 trillion (101.7% of GDP)
To the delight of marijuana users, Colorado became the first state to allow the retail sale of recreational cannabis in 2014. The same year, One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center, opened in New York City.
2015: U.S. and Cuba reestablish relationship
- Budget deficit: $438.4 billion (2.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $18.2 trillion (99.5% of GDP)
After 54 years of hostility, the United States and Cuba called a truce in 2015, and reestablished diplomatic relations, reopening the embassies in each country’s capital.
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2016: Donald Trump is elected
- Budget deficit: $587.4 billion (3.1% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $19.6 trillion (104.4% of GDP)
In March, President Obama visited Cuba, the first time a U.S. president had been to Cuba since President Calvin Coolidge was there in 1928. And in November, Donald Trump was elected president.
2017: Las Vegas shooting
- Budget deficit: $665.7 billion (3.4% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $20.2 trillion (103.6% of GDP)
The deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman occurred in October, when Stephen Paddock fired from his hotel room into a Las Vegas crowd, killing 59 people, and injuring 868. The same year, Category 4 Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area, causing devastating floods. Damages totaled $125 billion, and deaths numbered more than 100.
2018: Government shutdown
- Budget deficit: $779 billion (3.8% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $21.5 trillion (104.4% of GDP)
In response to a disagreement over Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA), the federal government shut down for two days in January. The same year, Facebook lost $109 billion of market value in one day when the company told investors that user growth slowed after a data leak scandal.
2019: 737 MAX grounded
- Budget deficit: $984.4 billion (4.6% of GDP)
- Total U.S. debt: $22.7 trillion (106% of GDP)
After two fatal crashes which killed 346 people, the United States grounded all Boeing 737 MAX airplanes until the plane’s software system could be fixed. The same year, Hurricane Barry hit the Gulf Coast, causing more than $500 million in damages.
2020: The coronavirus pandemic strikes
- Budget deficit: $3.7 trillion
- Total U.S. debt: TBD
In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced 59 cases of coronavirus-related pneumonia in Wuhan, China. By the end of January, WHO declared a public health emergency. As of Sept. 9, there have been more than 27 million reported COVID-19 cases and more than 903,000 deaths worldwide.
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