- 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.
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- 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.
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