Years of Change the 1960s and 1970s

The 1950s in America are often described as a time of complacency. By contrast, President John F. Kennedy ushered in a more activist decade when, during his 1960 presidential campaign, he said he would ask Americans to meet the challenges of the "New Frontier." Many of Kennedy's more far-reaching economic proposals were not enacted; one proposal that was, however, created the Peace Corps, which sends volunteer Americans overseas to assist developing countries in meeting their own needs.

Another of Kennedy's goals involved accelerating the U.S. space exploration program so that it would surpass Soviet achievements. Federal spending increases -- resulting from the expanded space program, the escalation of America's role in the Vietnam War and other new or enlarged federal programs -- contributed to prosperity for much of the decade.

Many new social welfare programs were created during the administration of Kennedy's successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson. He launched a "war on poverty" and succeeded in creating programs to provide medical assistance to the poor and elderly as well as other initiatives.

The 1960s were a period in which the American people began to express a growing concern about the natural and human environment -- from the need to preserve natural lands to avoiding the dangers of air and water pollution. The federal government enacted many regulations to protect the quality of life.

But by the end of the 1960s, economic prosperity was being eroded by persistent inflation. The 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo pushed prices rapidly higher and created shortages throughout the United States. Even after the embargo ended, prices stayed high, fueling inflation and eventually causing rising rates of unemployment. The rest of the decade was characterized by spiraling inflation, increased federal budget deficits, intensified foreign competition, high unemployment and stagnant demand.