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 by year is a good overview of economic growth in the United States. The following table 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 crises 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.

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 is the total U.S. economic output for that year. Experts use nominal GDP to compare GDP to the U.S. debt, which is also not adjusted for inflation. To see the debt to GDP ratio since 1929, go to "National Debt by Year." 

Real GDP takes out the effect of inflation. The BEA uses it to calculate the GDP growth rate and GDP per capita

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

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's deficit spending 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 raised rate to 20% to stop 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% (same as above)
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 $18.225 $17.404 2.9% TPP, Iran deal
2016 $18.715 $17.689 1.6% Presidential race
2017 $19.519 $18.108 2.4% Trump Tax Act
2018 $20.580 $18.638 2.9% Deficit spending

The Bottom Line

Just as GDP measures the health of the economy, GDP growth rate reflects how much events affect it. It also shows whether the country’s economy is flourishing or taking a dive. As the table’s general pattern shows, a negative or radically decreased growth rate may be a result of negative events such as a banking crisis or a recession. An increase in the rate of GDP growth is usually indicative of more positive events such as government spending.

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Article Sources

  1. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “What is the Interactive Date Application?” Accessed Nov. 28, 2019.