Skip to Content

Americans Think the Economy Was Better in the 1960s

Port Of New YorkPort Of New York
Port of New York, New York, New York, 1966. At the time, it was the world's largest shipping center.PhotoQuest—Getty Images

Donald Trump doesn’t specify when America last was “great,” when he talks about making it so again, but the 1960s is a pretty good guess.

Trump would have been twenty years old in 1966, when the economy grew at a whopping 6.6%, fueled by the Kennedy tax cuts and a resurgent Europe demanding products made in America. That was long before the rise of Japan sent trade deficits soaring and well before automation and one billion Chinese workers took the shine off the American manufacturing sector.

Voters are pretty nostalgic for this time too. A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that a plurality of Americans, 46%, say that life was better for Americans fifty years ago than today. And who could blame them? For those who lived through it, the 1960s were a time of plentiful jobs and rapidly growing living standards.

But economists will point out that while living standards may have been rising faster fifty years ago, the average American is much richer today than he was in the 1960s. According to a survey of business, academic and financial economists by the Wall Street Journal, the vast majority (80%) of economists “say [living] standards are higher today than during the 1990s or earlier. ”

“Between technology and health advances, today is much better than in 1960,” Amy Crews Cutts, chief economist at Equifax, told the Journal.

Indeed, life expectancy has soared since that time has risen roughly ten years since that time, while inflation adjusted income is 55% higher today than in 1960.