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Upon entering office, Obama focused on handling the global financial crisis and the subsequent Great Recession that had begun before his election, which was generally regarded as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. On February 17, 2009, Obama signed into law a $787 billion economic stimulus bill that included spending for health care, infrastructure, education, various tax breaks and incentives, and direct assistance to individuals. The tax provisions of the law, including a $116 billion income tax cut, temporarily reduced taxes for 98 percent of taxpayers, bringing tax rates to their lowest levels in 60 years. The Obama administration would later argue that the stimulus saved the United States from a "double-dip" recession. Obama asked for a second major stimulus package in December 2009, but no major second stimulus bill passed. Obama also launched a second bailout of US automakers, possibly saving General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy at the cost of $9.3 billion. For homeowners in danger of defaulting on their mortgage due to the subprime mortgage crisis, Obama launched several programs, including HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) and HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program). Obama re-appointed Ben Bernanke as Chair of the Federal Reserve Board in 2009, and appointed Janet Yellen to succeed Bernanke in 2013. Short-term interest rates remained near zero for much of Obama's presidency, and the Federal Reserve did not raise interest rates during Obama's presidency until December 2015.

There was a sustained increase of the U.S. unemployment rate during the early months of the administration, as multi-year economic stimulus efforts continued. The unemployment rate reached a peak in October 2009 at 10.0%. However, the economy added non-farm jobs for a record 75 straight months between October 2010 and December 2016, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.7% in December 2016. The recovery from the Great Recession was marked by a lower labor force participation rate, some economists attributing the lower participation rate partially to an aging population and people staying in school longer, as well as long-term structural demographic changes. The recovery also laid bare the growing income inequality in the United States, which the Obama administration highlighted as a major problem. The federal minimum wage increased during Obama's presidency to $7.25 per hour; in his second term, Obama advocated for another increase to $12 per hour.

GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth returned in the third quarter of 2009, expanding at a 1.6% pace, followed by a 5.0% increase in the fourth quarter. Growth continued in 2010, posting an increase of 3.7% in the first quarter, with lesser gains throughout the rest of the year. The country's real GDP grew by about 2% in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, peaking at 2.9% in 2015. In the aftermath of the recession, median household income (adjusted for inflation) declined during Obama’s first term, before recovering to a new record high in his final year. The poverty rate peaked at 15.1% in 2010 but declined to 12.7% in 2016, which was still higher than the 12.5% pre-recession figure of 2007. The relatively small GDP growth rates in the United States and other developed countries following the Great Recession left economists and others wondering whether U.S. growth rates would ever return to the levels seen in the second half of the twentieth century.



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