Science, Tech, Math › Social Sciences The U.S. Economy of the1960s and 1970s Share Flipboard Email Print traffic_analyzer / Getty Images Social Sciences Economics U.S. Economy Employment Supply & Demand Psychology Sociology Archaeology Environment Ergonomics Maritime By Mike Moffatt Professor of Business, Economics, and Public Policy Ph.D., Business Administration, Richard Ivey School of Business M.A., Economics, University of Rochester B.A., Economics and Political Science, University of Western Ontario our editorial process Mike Moffatt Updated January 27, 2020 The 1950s in America are often described as a time of complacency. By contrast, the 1960s and 1970s were a time of significant change. New nations emerged around the world, and insurgent movements sought to overthrow existing governments. Established countries grew to become economic powerhouses that rivaled the United States, and economic relationships came to predominate in a world that increasingly recognized that the military may not be the only means of growth and expansion. The 1960s' Effect on the Economy President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) ushered in a more activist approach to governing. During his 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy said he would ask Americans to meet the challenges of the "New Frontier." As president, he sought to accelerate economic growth by increasing government spending and cutting taxes, and he pressed for medical help for the elderly, aid for inner cities, and increased funds for education. Many of these proposals were not enacted, although Kennedy's vision of sending Americans abroad to help developing nations did materialize with the creation of the Peace Corps. Kennedy also stepped up American space exploration. After his death, the American space program surpassed Soviet achievements and culminated in the landing of American astronauts on the moon in July 1969. President Kennedy's assassination in 1963 spurred Congress to enact much of his legislative agenda. His successor, Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969), sought to build a "Great Society" by spreading benefits of America's thriving economy to more citizens. Federal spending increased dramatically, as the government launched such new programs as Medicare (health care for the elderly), Food Stamps (food assistance for the poor), and numerous education initiatives (assistance to students as well as grants to schools and colleges). Military spending also increased as American's presence in Vietnam grew. What had started as a small military action under Kennedy mushroomed into a significant military initiative during Johnson's presidency. Ironically, spending on both wars -- the war on poverty and fighting the war in Vietnam -- contributed to prosperity in the short term. But by the end of the 1960s, the government's failure to raise taxes to pay for these efforts led to accelerating inflation, which eroded this prosperity. The 1970s' Effect on the Economy The 1973-1974 oil embargo by members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pushed energy prices rapidly higher and created shortages. Even after the embargo ended, energy prices stayed high, adding to inflation and eventually causing rising rates of unemployment. Federal budget deficits grew, foreign competition intensified, and the stock market sagged. The Vietnam War dragged on until 1975, President Richard Nixon (1969-1973) resigned under a cloud of impeachment charges, and a group of Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held for more than a year. The nation seemed unable to control events, including economic affairs. America's trade deficit swelled as low-priced and frequently high-quality imports of everything from automobiles to steel to semiconductors flooded into the United States. This article is adapted from the book "Outline of the U.S. Economy" by Conte and Karr and has been adapted with permission from the U.S. Department of State.