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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