US GDP by Year Compared to Recessions and Events

The Strange Ups and Downs of the U.S. Economy Since 1929

Business cycle rollercoaster
•••  Photo by Fanatic Studio/Getty Images

U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by year is a good overview of economic growth in the United States. The table below presents the nation's GDP for each year since 1929 compared to major economic events.

The table begins with the stock market crash of 1929 and goes through the subsequent Great Depression. It includes five wars and several serious recessions. These extreme swings in the business cycle put today's economic climate in perspective. You can compare the GDP by year to fiscal and monetary policies to get a complete picture of what works and what doesn't in the U.S. economy.

Key Takeaways

  • The GDP growth rate shows whether the country’s economy is flourishing or taking a dive.
  • A negative growth rate indicates contraction.
  • Real GDP takes into account inflation, so you can compare the GDP of different years.
  • Nominal GDP reflects the prices for the year in which the goods were produced.

Types of GDP

The Bureau of Economic Analysis compiles the data. Keep in mind, when reviewing this history, that the BEA measures GDP in two ways: nominal GDP and real GDP. 

Nominal GDP

Nominal GDP is the total U.S. economic output for that year. The BEA also calls it the "current-dollar GDP" since it's measured as a dollar amount and it doesn't take factors like inflation into account. Experts use nominal GDP to compare economic output to U.S. debt, which is also measured in dollars without adjusting for inflation. The article "National Debt by Year" shows the debt-to-GDP ratio since 1929.

Real GDP

Real GDP accounts for inflation, making comparisons to previous years more accurate. The BEA uses it to calculate the GDP growth rate and GDP per capita. Real GDP is important because without canceling out the effects of inflation, the GDP could appear to grow, when really all that's happened is an increase in prices.

To calculate real GDP, the BEA starts with a reference year. The current base year is 2012. You'll notice that nominal and real GDP are the same in 2012. Real GDP shows what GDP would have been in each year if it were priced in 2012 dollars. That's how it removes the effect of inflation.

The current base year for GDP calculations is 2012. The period from which the weights for a measurement series are derived. The national income and product accounts (NIPAs) currently use the year 2000 as the base period. Rebasing changes the reference year (or base year) for the real (chained dollar and quantity index) estimates and price indexes and expresses GDP and other NIPA aggregates in terms of the prices of one year. The effect of rebasing is to produce chained-dollar estimates that are closer to additive for periods near the new base year. It is important to note that percentage changes based upon chain-type indexes are not affected by rebasing.

Generally, the year selected as the reference year is the latest year that will not be revised until the next comprehensive update. For the 2018 comprehensive update, real estimates were rebased from chained (2005) dollars to chained (2012) dollars.

U.S. GDP by Year Since 1929 Compared to Major Events

The following chart tracks both nominal and real GDP since 1929.   Some historical events and government policies are added for context.

Year Nominal GDP (trillions) Real GDP (trillions) GDP Growth Rate Events Affecting GDP
1929 $0.105 $1.109 NA Depression began
1930 $0.092 $1.015 -8.5% Smoot-Hawley
1931 $0.077 $0.950 -6.4% Dust Bowl
1932 $0.060 $0.828 -12.9% Hoover tax hikes
1933 $0.057 $0.817 -1.2% New Deal
1934 $0.067 $0.906 10.8% U.S. debt rose
1935 $0.074 $0.986 8.9% Social Security
1936 $0.085 $1.113 12.9% FDR tax hikes
1937 $0.093 $1.170 5.1% Depression returned
1938 $0.087 $1.132 -3.3% Depression ended
1939 $0.093 $1.222 8.0% WWII, Dust Bowl ended
1940 $0.103 $1.330 8.8% Defense increased
1941 $0.129 $1.566 17.7% Pearl Harbor
1942 $0.166 $1.862 18.9%  
1943 $0.203 $2.178 17.0% Defense spending tripled
1944 $0.224 $2.352 8.0% Bretton Woods
1945 $0.228 $2.329 -1.0% WWII ended, recession
1946 $0.228 $2.058 -11.6% Truman budget cuts
1947 $0.250 $2.035 -1.1% Cold War began
1948 $0.275 $2.119 4.1% Recession
1949 $0.273 $2.107 -0.6% NATO, Fair Deal
1950 $0.300 $2.290 8.7% Korean War
1951 $0.347 $2.474 8.0%  
1952 $0.367 $2.575 4.1%  
1953 $0.389 $2.696 4.7% War ended, recession
1954 $0.391 $2.680 -0.6% Dow returned to 1929 high
1955 $0.426 $2.871 7.1%  
1956 $0.449  $2.932 2.1%  
1957 $0.474 $2.994 2.1% Recession
1958 $0.481 $2.972 -0.7% Recession ended
1959 $0.522 $3.178 6.9% Fed raised rates
1960 $0.542 $3.260 2.6% Recession
1961 $0.562 $3.344 2.6% JFK ended recession
1962 $0.604 $3.548 6.1%  
1963 $0.638 $3.703 4.4%  
1964 $0.685 $3.916 5.8% LBJ's Medicare, Medicaid
1965 $0.742 $4.171 6.5%  
1966 $0.813 $4.446 6.6% Vietnam War
1967 $0.860 $4.568 2.7%  
1968 $0.941 $4.792 4.9% Moon landing
1969 $1.018 $4.942 3.1% Nixon took office
1970 $1.073 $4.951 0.2% Recession
1971 $1.165 $5.114 3.3% Wage-price controls
1972 $1.279 $5.383 5.3% Stagflation
1973 $1.425 $5.687 5.6% End of gold standard
1974 $1.545 $5.657 -0.5% Watergate
1975 $1.685 $5.645 -0.2% Recession ended
1976 $1.873 $5.949 5.4% Fed lowered rates
1977 $2.082 $6.224 4.6%  
1978 $2.352 $6.569 5.5% Fed's 20% rate hike ended inflation
1979 $2.627 $6.777 3.2% Recession
1980 $2.857 $6.759 -0.3%  
1981 $3.207 $6.931 2.5% Reagan tax cuts
1982 $3.344 $6.806 -1.8% Recession ended
1983 $3.634 $7.118 4.6% Tax hike and defense spending 
1984 $4.038 $7.633 7.2%  
1985 $4.339 $7.951 4.2%  
1986 $4.580 $8.226 3.5% Tax cut
1987 $4.855 $8.511 3.5% Black Monday
1988 $5.236 $8.867 4.2% Fed raised rates
1989 $5.642 $9.192 3.7% S&L Crisis
1990 $5.963 $9.366 1.9% Recession
1991 $6.158 $9.355 -0.1%  
1992 $6.520 $9.685 3.5% NAFTA drafted
1993 $6.859 $9.952 2.8% Balanced Budget Act
1994 $7.287 $10.352 4.0%  
1995 $7.640 $10.630 2.7% Fed raised rates
1996 $8.073 $11.031 3.8% Welfare reform
1997 $8.578 $11.522 4.4%  
1998 $9.063 $12.038 4.5% LTCM crisis
1999 $9.631 $12.611 4.8% Repeal of Glass-Steagall
2000 $10.252 $13.131 4.1% Tech bubble burst
2001 $10.582 $13.262 1.0% 9/11 attacks
2002 $10.936 $13.493 1.7% War on Terror
2003 $11.458 $13.879 2.9% Iraq War, JGTRRA
2004 $12.214 $14.406 3.8%  
2005 $13.037 $14.913 3.5% Katrina, Bankruptcy Act
2006 $13.815 $15.338 2.9% Fed raised rates
2007 $14.452 $15.626 1.9% Bank crisis
2008 $14.713 $15.605 -0.1% Financial Crisis
2009 $14.449 $15.209 -2.5% Stimulus Act
2010 $14.992 $15.599 2.6% ACA, Dodd-Frank
2011 $15.543 $15.841 1.6% Japan earthquake
2012 $16.197 $16.197 2.2% Fiscal cliff
2013 $16.785 $16.495 1.8% Sequestration 
2014 $17.527 $16.912 2.5% QE ends
2015 $18.238 $17.432 3.1% TPP, Iran deal
2016 $18.745 $17.731 1.7% Presidential race
2017 $19.543 $18.144 2.3% Trump Tax Act
2018 $20.612 $18.688 3.0% Deficit spending
2019 $21,433 $19,092 2.2% Trade war

More Economic History

While GDP is a closely watched economic indicator, digging into more economic data can give greater context to GDP figures. Here's a list of indicators and historical events that closely relate to the U.S. economy:

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Article Sources

  1. Bureau of Economic Analysis. "Gross Domestic Product." Accessed Jan. 14, 2020.

  2. Bureau of Economic Analysis. "Why Are Real Estimates Rebased?" Accessed Jan. 18, 2020.

  3. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “National Income and Product Accounts Tables: Table 1.1.5. Gross Domestic Product.” Accessed July 30, 2020.

  4. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “National Income and Product Accounts Tables: Table 1.1.3. Real Gross Domestic Product.” Accessed July 30, 2020.

  5. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “National Income and Product Accounts Tables: Table 1.1.1. Percent Change From Preceding Period in Real Gross Domestic Product.” Accessed July 30, 2020.