GDP Growth by Year With Business Cycle, Inflation, Unemployment

Compare U.S. Growth to Business Cycle Indicators Through History

When the U.S. is growing at a healthy rate, it generates enough great jobs for everyone. Photo: Vincent Hazat/Getty Images

The U.S. GDP growth rate is the percent change in the gross domestic product from one quarter to the next. It is the most closely watched indicator because it measures the nation's economic growth. For most the most recent quarters, see Current GDP Statistics

But GDP alone is not enough to tell you the state of the economy's health. For that, need to look at the business cycle.  A 1 percent growth rate means is great news after a recession.

It might warn of a slowdown after a bubble.  You also need to look at inflation and unemployment. Rising prices could also signal an economy on the mend or one that's overheating. Seven percent unemployment is a bad sign, unless it's coming after a 9 percent jobless rate.

The table below compares the U.S. GDP growth rate with the unemployment rate (as of December of that year), the rate of inflation (percent change year-over-year) and the phase of the business cycle. Also, efforts to stimulate the economy or ward off inflation are noted, whether by the Federal Reserve or by elected officials. 

The biggest drop in growth in U.S. history occurred in 1932. The economy contracted 12.9 percent during the worst year of the Great Depression. The worst deflation occurred that same year. Prices fell 10.3 percent. The highest jobless rate of 24.9 percent occurred in 1933. All those records occurred during the contraction phase of the business cycle.


The worst inflation was right after World War II. Prices rose 18.1 percent in 1946. That happened during the expansion phase of the business cycle.

U.S. Annual GDP Growth Rate Compared Unemployment, Inflation and Business Cycle Phases

YearGDP GrowthUnemployment Rate Inflation  Business Cycle Phase
1929NA3.2%0.6%Aug peak. Oct market crash.
1933-1.3%24.9%0.8%New Deal. Mar trough.
19375.1%14.3%2.9%May peak. 
1938-3.3%19%-2.8%Jun trough.


Dust Bowl drought ended.

194117.7%9.9%9.9%Expansion. U.S. entered WWII.
19448.0%1.2%2.3%Bretton-Woods Agreement
1945-1.0%1.9%2.2%Feb peak. Recession until Oct trough.
1946-11.6%3.9%18.1%Expansion despite fed cuts.
1947-1.1%3.9%8.8%Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine. Cold War.
19484.1%4%3.0%Nov peak.
1949-0.5%6.6%-2.1%Oct trough. Fair Deal. NATO. 
19508.7%4.3%5.9%Expansion. Korean War.
19534.7%4.5%0.7%Korean War ended. July peak.
1954-0.6%5%-0.7%May trough. Dow rose to 1929 level.
19572.1%5.2%2.9%Aug peak.
1958-0.7%6.2%1.8%April trough.
19596.9%5.3%1.7%Fed raised rates.
19602.6%6.6%1.4%April peak. Fed lowered rates.
19612.6%6%0.7%JFK increased spending. Feb trough. 
19626.1%5.5%1.3%Cuban Missile Crisis.
19634.4%5.5%1.6%LBJ increased spending. Fed raised rate.
19645.8%5%1.0%Fed raised rate to 3.85%.
19656.5%4%1.9%Vietnam War. Fed raised rate to 4.32%.
19666.6%3.8%3.5%Expansion. Fed raised rate to 5.76%.
19672.7%3.8%3.0%Expansion. Inflation at 3%.
19684.9%3.4%4.7%Expansion. Fed raised rate to 6%.
19693.1%3.5%6.2%Nixon Fed raised rate to 9.19%. Dec peak.
19700.2%6.1%5.6%Nov trough. Fed lowered rate to 4.9%.
19713.3%6%3.3%Expansion. Fed lowered rate to 3.5%, then raised it to 5%. August wage-price controls.
19735.6%4.9%8.7%Vietnam War ended.  Gold standard ended in Aug. Inflation tripled. Fed doubled rate. Nov peak.
1974-0.5%7.2%12.3%Stagflation. Watergate. Fed raised rate to 13%.
1975-0.2%8.2%6.9%Mar trough. Fed lowered rate to 7.5%.
19765.4%7.8%4.9%Expansion. Fed lowered rate to 4.75%.
19774.6%6.4%6.7%Expansion. Carter became President. Inflation at 6.7%.
19785.6%6%9.0%Expansion. Fed raised rate to 10%.
19793.2%6%13.3%Expansion. Fed raised then lowered rates. 
1980-0.2%7.2%12.5%Jan peak. Fed raised rate to 20% by March, lowered it to 8% by June. July trough. Fed raised rate to 20% by December.
19812.6%8.5%8.9%Reagan became President. Fed raised rate to 20% in January, lowered it to 16% in April, raised it to 20% in May. Expansion peaked in July. Fed lowered rate to 12% by year end.
1982-1.9%10.8%3.8%Nov trough. The Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act was passed to fight recession. Fed lowered rate to 8.5%.
19834.6%8.3%3.8%Reagan increased military spending.
19863.5%6.6%1.1%Reagan cut taxes.
19873.5%5.7%4.4% Black Monday stock market crash in October.
19884.2%5.3%4.4%Expansion. Fed raised rate to 9.75%.
19893.7%5.4%4.6%S&L Crisis
19901.9%6.3%6.1%Jul peak.
1991-0.1%7.3%3.1%Mar trough.
19923.6%7.4%2.9%Expansion. Fed lowered rate to 3%.
19952.7%5.6%2.5%Expansion. Fed raised rate to 5.5%.
19963.8%5.4%3.3%Expansion. Lowered rate to 5.25%.
19974.5%4.7%1.7%Expansion. Raised to 5.5%.
19984.5%4.4%1.6%Expansion. LTCM crisis.
20011.0%5.7%1.6%Mar peak. 9/11. Nov trough.
20032.8%5.7%1.9%Expansion. JGTRRA.
20071.8%5.0%4.1%Dec peak.
2008-0.3%7.3%0.1%Contraction. Financial Crisis.
2009-2.8%9.9%2.7%June trough.
20102.5%9.3%1.5%Obamacare. Dodd-Frank.
20152.9%5.0%0.7%Strong dollar. Low oil prices. Fed raised rate.

Note: GDP growth is for the year. The unemployment rate is as of December of that year. The inflation rate is the year-over-year rate as of December of that year.

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