The Economic Policy Institute has put together an amazing interactive chart that shows the growth of incomes in the U.S. over the past 90 years, from 1918 to 2008, and is broken down by who the gains went to (the bottom 90% versus the top 10%).
By adjusting the sliders on the chart, you can break down the period into different eras, which show startlingly different trends.
Over the entire period, the average U.S. incomes grew by $38,000, adjusted for inflation. About half of these gains went to the richest 10% of the country. The other half went to the other 90%.
But where we start to see a drastic difference between the two classes is shortly after Reagan took office. This next chart shows the time period from 1981 to 2008 where the average income grew by $12,189. The top 10% received 96% of that growth and the bottom 90% shared only a measly 4%.
The following charts are the results per each president since 1918, with the final chart showing the combination of Reagan and Bush Sr. I was actually a bit surprised by some of the results….
Woodrow Wilson (D) 1913-1921
Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was the 28th president. In his first term as President, Wilson persuaded a Democratic Congress to pass major progressive reforms. This agenda included the Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and an income tax. Narrowly re-elected in 1916, he had full control of American entry into World War I, and his second term centered on World War I and the subsequent peace treaty negotiations in Paris. On the home front in 1917, he began the United States’ first draft since the American Civil War, raised billions of dollars in war funding through Liberty Bonds, set up the War Industries Board, promoted labor union cooperation, supervised agriculture and food production through the Lever Act, took over control of the railroads, and suppressed anti-war movements. In 1919, he went to Paris to create the League of Nations and shape the Treaty of Versailles. For his peace-making efforts, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize.
Warren G Harding (R) 1921-1923
Warren Gamaliel Harding (1865-1923) was the 29th president. President Harding rewarded friends and political contributors, referred to as the Ohio Gang, with financially powerful positions. Scandals and corruption, including the notorious Teapot Dome scandal, eventually pervaded his administration; one of his own cabinet and several of his appointees were eventually tried, convicted, and sent to prison for bribery or defrauding the federal government. Harding did however make some notably positive appointments to his cabinet. In foreign affairs, Harding spurned the League of Nations, and signed a separate peace treaty with Germany and Austria, formally ending World War I. The nation’s unemployment rate dropped by half during Harding’s administration. In August 1923, President Harding suddenly collapsed and died during a stop in California on a return trip from Alaska.
Calvin Coolidge (R) 1923-1929
Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) was the 30th president of the United States. Coolidge gained a reputation as a small-government conservative, and also as a man who said very little. Coolidge restored public confidence in the White House after the scandals of his predecessor’s administration, and left office with considerable popularity. As a Coolidge biographer put it, “He embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class, could interpret their longings and express their opinions. That he did represent the genius of the average is the most convincing proof of his strength.” Some later criticized Coolidge as part of a general criticism of laissez-faire government. His reputation underwent a renaissance during the Ronald Reagan Administration, but the ultimate assessment of his presidency is still divided between those who approve of his reduction of the size of government programs and those who believe the federal government should be more involved in regulating and controlling the economy.
Herbert Hoover (R) 1929-1933
Herbert C. Hoover (1874-1964) was the 31st president of the United States. Hoover, a trained engineer, deeply believed in the Efficiency Movement, which held that the government and the economy were riddled with inefficiency and waste, and could be improved by experts who could identify the problems and solve them. When the Wall Street Crash of 1929 struck less than eight months after he took office, Hoover tried to combat the ensuing Great Depression with volunteer efforts, public works projects such as the Hoover Dam, tariffs such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, an increase in the top tax bracket from 25% to 63%, and increases in corporate taxes. These initiatives did not produce economic recovery during his term, but served as the groundwork for various policies laid out in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The consensus among historians is that Hoover’s defeat in the 1932 election was caused primarily by failure to end the downward economic spiral.
Franklin D Roosevelt (R) 1933-1945
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) (1882-1945) was the 32nd president. In his “first hundred days” in office, which began March 4, 1933, Roosevelt spearheaded major legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation). The economy improved rapidly from 1933 to 1937, but then relapsed into a deep recession. The bipartisan Conservative Coalition that formed in 1937 prevented his packing the Supreme Court or passing any considerable legislation; it abolished many of the relief programs when unemployment diminished during World War II. Most of the regulations on business were ended about 1975–85, except for the regulation of Wall Street by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which still exists. Along with several smaller programs, major surviving programs include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which was created in 1933, and Social Security, which Congress passed in 1935. As World War II loomed after 1938, with the Japanese invasion of China and the aggressions of Nazi Germany, FDR gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China and Britain, while remaining officially neutral. His goal was to make America the “Arsenal of Democracy” which would supply munitions to the Allies. In March 1941, Roosevelt, with Congressional approval, provided Lend-Lease aid to the countries fighting against Nazi Germany with Britain. With very strong national support he made war on Japan and Germany after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, calling it a “date which will live in infamy”. Unemployment dropped to 2%, relief programs largely ended, and the industrial economy grew rapidly to new heights as millions of people moved to new jobs in war centers, and 16 million men and 300,000 women were drafted or volunteered for military service. FDR’s New Deal Coalition united labor unions, big city machines, white ethnics, African Americans and rural white Southerners. Roosevelt is consistently rated by scholars as one of the top three U.S. Presidents.
Harry S Truman (D) 1945-1953
Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was the 33rd president of the United States. After FDR died in office, Truman became president. Truman faced many challenges in domestic affairs. The disorderly postwar reconversion of the economy of the United States was marked by severe shortages, numerous strikes, and the passage of the Taft–Hartley Act over his veto. He confounded all predictions to win election in 1948, helped by his famous Whistle Stop Tour of rural America. After his election, he passed only one of the proposals in his liberal Fair Deal program. He used executive orders to end racial discrimination in the armed forces and created loyalty checks that dismissed thousands of communist supporters from office. Truman’s presidency was also eventful in foreign affairs, with the defeat of Nazi Germany and his decision to use nuclear weapons against Japan, the founding of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, the Truman Doctrine to contain communism, the beginning of the Cold War, the Berlin Airlift, the creation of NATO, the Chinese Civil War, and the Korean War.
Dwight D Eisenhower (R) 1953-1961
Dwight David Eisenhower (“Ike”) (1890-1969) was the 34th president. In the first year of his presidency Eisenhower deposed the leader of Iran in the 1953 Iranian coup d’etat, and used nuclear threats to conclude the Korean War with China. His New Look, a policy of nuclear deterrence, gave priority to inexpensive nuclear weapons while reducing the funding for the other military forces; the goal was to keep pressure on the Soviet Union and reduce federal deficits at the same time. When the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957 he had to play catchup in the space race. Eisenhower forced Israel, the UK and France to end their invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956. In 1958 he sent 15,000 US troops to Lebanon to prevent the pro-Western government falling to a Nasser-inspired revolution. Near the end of his term, his efforts to set up a summit meeting with the Soviets collapsed because of the U-2 incident when an American spy plane was shot down over Russia and its pilot captured. On the domestic front, he covertly helped remove Joseph McCarthy from power but otherwise left most political activity to his Vice President, Richard Nixon. He was a moderate conservative who continued the New Deal policies, and in fact enlarged the scope of Social Security, and signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Though passive on civil rights at first, he sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the first time since Reconstruction, to enforce the US Supreme Court’s ruling to desegregate public schools, and proposed civil rights legislation passed in 1957 and 1960 to protect the right to vote.
John F Kennedy (D) 1961-1963
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) was the 35th president. He was from a powerful family. He was the youngest elected to the office, at the age of 43, the second-youngest President (after Theodore Roosevelt), and the first president to have been born in the 20th century. Kennedy is the only Catholic president, and is the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize. Events during his presidency included the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Space Race, the African American Civil Rights Movement and early stages of the Vietnam War. On June 4, 1963, Executive Order 11110 was signed by JFK with the authority to basically strip the Bank of its power to loan money to the United States Federal Government at interest. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.
Lyndon B Johnson (D) 1963-1969
Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) was the 36th president of the United States. Johnson succeeded to the presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Johnson was greatly supported by the Democratic Party and, as President, was responsible for designing the “Great Society” legislation that included laws that upheld civil rights, Public Broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education, and his “War on Poverty.” He was renowned for his domineering personality and the “Johnson treatment,” his coercion of powerful politicians in order to advance legislation. Simultaneously, he greatly escalated direct American involvement in the Vietnam War. As the war dragged on, Johnson’s popularity as President steadily declined. He withdrew from the race amid growing opposition to his policy on the Vietnam War and a worse-than-expected showing in the New Hampshire primary.
Richard Nixon (R) 1969-1974
Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994) was the 37th president. American involvement in Vietnam was widely unpopular; although Nixon initially escalated the war there, he subsequently moved to end US involvement, completely withdrawing American forces by 1973. Nixon’s ground-breaking visit to the People’s Republic of China in 1972 opened diplomatic relations between the two nations, and he initiated détente and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union the same year. In domestic policy, his administration generally sought to transfer power from Washington to the states. In an attempt to slow inflation, Nixon imposed wage and price controls. He enforced desegregation of Southern schools and established the Environmental Protection Agency. Though he presided over Apollo 11, the culmination of the project to land a person on the moon, he scaled back manned space exploration. He was reelected by a landslide in 1972. Nixon’s second term was marked by crisis: 1973 saw an Arab oil embargo as a result of U.S. support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War and a continuing series of revelations about the Watergate scandal, which began as a break-in at a Washington office. The scandal escalated despite efforts by the Nixon administration to cover it up, costing Nixon much of his political support, and on August 9, 1974, he resigned in the face of almost certain impeachment and removal from office.
Gerald Ford (R) 1974-1977
Gerald R. Ford (1913- 2006) was the 38th president. Ford is the only president who wasn’t elected to the office of President or Vice-President (he served as President from 1974 to 1977). When Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned (after being involved in a scandal), Ford took his place. When Richard Nixon resigned the presidency (after the Watergate scandal), Ford became president. A month later, Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he might have committed while in office. As President, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, marking a move toward détente in the Cold War. With the conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam nine months into his presidency, U.S. involvement in Vietnam essentially ended. Domestically, Ford presided over arguably the worst economy since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure. During Ford’s incumbency, foreign policy was characterized in procedural terms by the increased role Congress began to play, and by the corresponding curb on the powers of the President.
Jimmy Carter (D) 1977-1981
James (Jimmy) Earl Carter, Jr. (1924- ) was the 39th president. As President, Carter created the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He established a national energy policy that included conservation, price control, and new technology. In foreign affairs, Carter pursued the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II), and returned the Panama Canal Zone to Panama. Throughout his career, Carter strongly emphasized human rights. He took office during a period of international stagflation, which persisted throughout his term. The end of his presidential tenure was marked by the 1979–1981 Iran hostage crisis, the 1979 energy crisis, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (at the end of 1979), 1980 Summer Olympics boycott by the United States of the Moscow Olympics and the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. By 1980, Carter’s popularity had eroded. He survived a primary challenge against Ted Kennedy for the Democratic Party nomination in the 1980 election, but lost the election to Republican candidate Ronald Reagan. On January 20, 1981, minutes after Carter’s term in office ended, the 52 U.S. captives held at the U.S. embassy in Iran were released, ending the 444-day Iran hostage crisis.
Ronald Reagan (R) 1981-1989
Ronald Reagan was the 40th president. As president, Reagan’s supply-side economic policies, dubbed “Reaganomics”, advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth, controlling the money supply to reduce inflation, deregulation of the economy, and reducing government spending. In his first term he survived an assassination attempt, took a hard line against labor unions, and ordered an invasion of Grenada. He was reelected in a landslide in 1984, proclaiming that it was “Morning in America.” His second term was primarily marked by foreign matters, such as the ending of the Cold War, the 1986 bombing of Libya, and the revelation of the Iran-Contra affair. Publicly describing the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” he supported anti-communist movements worldwide and spent his first term forgoing the strategy of détente by ordering a massive military buildup in an arms race with the USSR. Reagan negotiated with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, culminating in the INF Treaty and the decrease of both countries’ nuclear arsenals.
George Bush Sr (R) 1989-1993
George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12, 1924 – ) was the 41st President. He became involved in politics soon after founding his own oil company, serving as a member of the House of Representatives, among other positions. During his tenure, Bush headed administration task forces on deregulation and fighting drug abuse. In 1988, Bush launched a successful campaign to succeed Reagan as president, defeating Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis. Foreign policy drove the Bush presidency; military operations were conducted in Panama and the Persian Gulf at a time of world change; the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union dissolved two years later. Domestically, Bush reneged on a 1988 campaign promise and after a struggle with Congress, signed an increase in taxes that Congress had passed. In the wake of economic concerns, he lost the 1992 presidential election to Democrat Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton (D) 1993-2001
William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton (1946- ) was the 42nd President. The administration faced political opposition in 1994 when Republicans took control of both houses of Congress but Clinton was reelected in 1996, after a failed attempt at health care reform. The administration had a mixed record on taxes but produced the first federal budget surpluses since 1969, for fiscal years 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001, leading to a decrease in the public debt (though the gross federal debt continued to increase). Clinton supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he signed into law in 1994. His presidency saw the passage of welfare reform in Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act which ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children and reduced much needed welfare programs. This received support from both political parties. He also signed the reversal of the Glass-Steagall Act which was designed to prevent financial institutions from getting too big to fail. He also signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act which legalized over-the-counter derivatives. Clinton saw the escalation of the War on Drugs prompting a swell in the prison population from 1.4 to 2 million. A couple of measures were introduced to improve the effectiveness of the social safety net, including an increase in the number of child care places, a significant expansion of the EITC program, and the introduction of new programs such as SCHIP, and a child tax credit. The administration took office less than two years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the administration’s foreign policy addressed conflicts in Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Haiti through militarism and economic exploitation.
George Bush Jr (R) 2001-2009
George Walker Bush (July 6, 1946 – ) was the 43rd President. As president, Bush pushed through a $1.3 trillion tax cut program and the No Child Left Behind Act, and also pushed for socially conservative efforts such as the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and faith-based welfare initiatives. Nearly 8 million immigrants came to the United States from 2000 to 2005 – more than in any other five-year period in the nation’s history. Almost half entered illegally. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Bush declared a global War on Terrorism and, in October 2001, ordered an invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, destroy Al-Qaeda, and to capture Osama bin Laden. In March 2003, Bush received a mandate from the U.S. Congress to lead an invasion of Iraq, asserting that Iraq was in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Bush also initiated an AIDS program that committed $15 billion to combat AIDS over five years. His record as a humanitarian included helping enroll as many as 29 million of Africa’s poorest children in schools. On his second full day in office, Bush reinstated the Mexico City Policy; this policy required any non-governmental organization receiving US Government funding to refrain from performing or promoting abortion services in other countries. Also in 2002, President Bush withdrew funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a key player in promoting family planning in the developing world. Running as a self-styled “war president” in the midst of the Iraq War, Bush won re-election in 2004, as his campaign against Senator John Kerry was successful despite controversy over Bush’s prosecution of the Iraq War and his handling of the economy. His second term was highlighted by several free trade agreements, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 alongside a strong push for offshore and domestic drilling, the nominations of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, a push for Social Security and immigration reform, a surge of troops in Iraq, which was followed by a drop in violence, and several different economic initiatives aimed at preventing a banking system collapse, stopping foreclosures, and stimulating the economy during the recession.
Here is the chart showing the combination of Reagan and Bush Sr’s terms:
Source: All information about the presidents found in Wikipedia.