The 1990s economic boom in the United States was an extended period of economic prosperity, during which GDP increased continuously for almost ten years (the longest recorded expansion in the history of the United States). It commenced after the end of the early 1990s recession in March 1991, and ended in March 2001 with the start of the early 2000s recession, following the bursting of the dot com bubble.
The prosperity of the 1990s was not evenly distributed over the entire decade, but then again, economic upturns never are. The economy was in recession from July 1990 - March 1991, having suffered the S&L Crisis in 1989, a spike in gas prices as the result of the Gulf War, and the general run of the business cycle since 1983. A surge in inflation in 1988 and 1989 forced the Federal Reserve to raise the Interest rate to 8.00% in early 1990, restricting credit into the already-weakening economy. GDP growth and job creation remained weak through late-1992. Unemployment rose from 5.4% in January 1990 to 6.8% in March 1991, and continued to rise until peaking at 7.8% in June 1992. Approximately 1.621 million jobs were shed during the recession. As inflation subsided drastically, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to a then-record low of 3.00% to promote growth.
For the first time since the Great Depression, the economy underwent a "jobless recovery," where GDP growth and corporate earnings returned to normal levels while job creation lagged, demonstrating the importance of the financial and service sectors in the national economy, having surpassed the manufacturing sector in the 1980s.
Politically, the stagnant economy would doom President George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election, as Bill Clinton capitalized on economic frustration and voter fatigue after 12 years of Republican stewardship of the White House. Unemployment remained above 7% until July 1993, and above 6% until September 1994.
It was in the spring of 1994 where GDP growth surged and the number of jobs created (3.85 million) set a record that has yet to be surpassed as of 2015. But 1995 would bring a pause in economic growth, primarily because the Federal Reserve raised interest rates from 3% to 6% beginning in late-1994 to prevent inflation from rising after such rapid growth along with two government shutdowns that slowed the economy. The pause was short-lived, however, as the economy adjusted and the surge of investment in the Dot-Com bubble would jumpstart the economy beginning in late-1995. 1996 saw a return to steady growth, and in May 1997 unemployment fell below 5% for the first time since December 1973.
This prosperity, combined with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 and Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (which raised taxes and restrained spending), allowed the federal government to go from a $290 billion deficit in 1992 to a record $236.4 billion surplus in 2000. The reduction in government borrowing freed up capital in markets for businesses and consumers, causing interest rates on loans to fall creating a cycle that only reinforced growth. Government debt increased from $5.02 trillion in 1990 to $5.413 in 1997 and flatlined, barely increasing to $5.674 in 2000.
1995-2000 is also remembered for a series of global economic financial crises that threatened the U.S. economy: Mexico in 1995, Asia in 1997, Russia in 1998, and Argentina in 1999. Despite occasional stock market downturns and some distortions in the trade deficit, the US economy remained resilient until the dot-com bubble peaked in March 2000. The Federal Reserve had a hand in propping up the US economy by lowering interest rates to 4.75% by November 1998 to flood the world financial markets with dollars and prevent a global economic crisis as well as to restore confidence within the American economy which panicked during the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1997.
The easing of credit also coincided with spectacular stock market run-ups from 1999 to 2000. The NASDAQ, at less than 800 points in 1994, surged to over 5,000 in March 2000. The Dow Jones Industrial Index traded at roughly 2,000 points in 1990 and 4,000 in 1995, nearly tripled to over 11,000 by mid-2000.
None of these rationales for the 1990s economic boom should be seen as mutually exclusive.