Economic growth of a nation is one of the best performance indicators of the leader heading it. The same is true for the U.S. as well. Over the past century or so, the country has seen several presidents with each pursuing their own monetary policy to overcome the challenges they face. For instance, the U.S. witnessed robust growth during the first three years of President Donald Trump, but the coronavirus pandemic marred the fourth year. Trump is not the only president that has faced such a crisis. In fact, almost every president had to face some sort of challenges during their term that took a toll on economic growth. If you are interested in how the growth was under different presidents, then listed below are the top ten presidents with the best economic growth.
Top ten presidents with best economic growth
To come up with the list we have used the average annual growth rate of GDP during a president’s term, or the sum of yearly growth rate during a president’s term in office divided by the number of years. Such an approach helps to reduce the impact of the extremes. Also, we have considered presidents over the past 100 years or so.
Following are the top ten presidents with the best economic growth:
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945, 9.3%)
Roosevelt came up with the New Deal to put an end to the Depression. He came up with new agencies to provide stability to banks, raise manufacturing and boost employment. Roosevelt, however, raised taxes later to improve the budget, but this led to a recession. In percentage terms, Roosevelt also added the most debt than any other president.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969, 5.3%)
Johnson was a powerful leader and is credited for Medicare, Medicaid and Head Start. Johnson's Great Society program introduced the National Endowment for the Arts, drivers' education and the Public Broadcasting Corporation. There were no recessions during Johnson’s term and the unemployment rate also dropped. Johnson also escalated the Vietnam War, but couldn’t win it.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963, 4.4%)
Kennedy raised government spending to help the U.S. get out of the 1960 recession. He introduced the Food Stamp pilot program in many states in 1961, raised the minimum wage and improved Social Security benefits as well. Kennedy also accelerated payment of farm price supports, GI life insurance dividends and tax refunds. He also expanded Employment Offices.
Bill Clinton (1993-2000, 3.9%)
The U.S. witnessed phenomenal growth during the 90s, and there were many reasons for it, including rising global trade, surge of the tech sector, decent growth in other sectors and more. Along with this, inflation, unemployment, and the federal deficit also came down during that period. He signed NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), and created a budget surplus of almost $70 billion.
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989, 3.5%)
Reagan came to office in the midst of a recession and stagflation. He increased defense spending as he opposed communism and the Soviet Union. To boost the economy, Reagan lowered the top income tax rate from 69.3% to 28% and the corporate tax rate from 46% to 34%. However, he raised the payroll tax to protect the Social Security program. He eliminated the Nixon-era price controls. The national debt, however, more than doubled during his term.
Richard Nixon (1969-1974, 3.5%)
Nixon ended the Vietnam War, and increased military transfers to Iran and Saudi Arabia. He added $121 billion to the national debt during his term. In 1971, he came up with "Nixon Shock" that imposed wage-price controls, closed the gold window and imposed a 10% tariff on imports. However, this contributed to a decade of stagflation.
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981, 3.3%)
Carter came when the economy was in the midst of stagflation. Still, he was able to add 9.3 million jobs, the highest for any president. Carter, in 1979, appointed Paul Volcker as the Fed chair, who raised the interest rate to end the double-digit inflation. In response to higher oil prices, Carter instituted energy conservation measures.
Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961, 3%)
Eisenhower adopted a mixed approach by continuing with most of Roosevelt’s New Deal and Truman's Fair Deal programs. He expanded Social Security to include more people, and created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Eisenhower also raised the U.S. minimum wage and reduced military spending as well.
George H.W. Bush (1989-1993, 2.3%)
Bush faced the 1990-1991 recession (triggered by the Savings and Loan crisis) and the unemployment rate was more than 7.8% in 1992. He had to raise taxes as he wasn’t in favor of cutting Social Security or defense. During Bush’s term, the national debt increased by 54%.
George W. Bush (2001-2009, 2.2%)
Bush faced the three worst challenges ever during this term – the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 financial crisis. He also had to fight the 2001 recession. In response, he came up with the tax rebate and business tax cuts to boost hiring. To lower the impact of the 2008 crisis, Bush approved business-friendly bailouts and sent tax rebate checks. The national debt more than doubled during his eight years in office.