Societal Changes

Domestic Issues in the 1970s

The turmoil of the 1960s continued into the 1970s. Despite the progress made by the civil rights movement, minorities were still fighting for social justice. The war in Vietnam was winding down, but problems in other areas of the world affected the US economy.


Before the 1972 election, Nixon and his staff were worried about Nixon’s chances of winning. In June, five men broke into the Democratic Party’s national headquarters in Washington, DC. They were caught and arrested. It soon was revealed that one of the men worked for the Committee to Re-elect the President. Nixon denied knowing anything about the break-in.

After his re-election, a Senate committee continued to investigate the break-in. Information came out proving that Nixon had ordered a cover up. He had also told the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to stop their investigation of the break-in. Facing impeachment, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.

Inflation and the Energy Crisis New federal government programs of the 1960s put large amounts of money into the economy. This led to inflation, which is a rise in the cost of goods and services. Energy costs were also rising. The United States depended on cheap oil imports, goods brought from a foreign country. A war in the Middle East caused oil prices to rise quickly. At one point, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) stopped shipping fuel to the United States. When shipping resumed, prices continued to rise.

Conservation and Alternative Energy

Presidents Ford and Carter encouraged people to conserve energy. To conserve means to “prevent waste or overuse.” People started looking into alternative energy sources. The first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States opened in 1957. The industry grew rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s. Nuclear energy is relatively cheap to produce, but it also has risks. An malfunction or accident in a plant can release radiation into the environment. Such an accident happened at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979.

The Reagan Years

Toward the end of the 1970s, the United States was becoming more conservative. In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan was elected president. Many Americans supported his plans to cut taxes and increase defense spending. They also agreed with his conservative political philosophy. Conservatives generally want to limit government’s role in regulating the economy and solving social problems.

To help the economy, Reagan and Congress passed a 25 percent tax cut. Major cuts were made to spending on social programs to keep the budget deficit, or shortage, under control. Reagan eliminated many government regulations, or rules, especially in the transportation, energy, and banking industries. The economy began to recover and Reagan won reelection in 1984. In 1988, his vice president, George H. W. Bush, was the Republican candidate. He, too, was elected.

Political Cartoon


America continued to become a more urban nation. In 1970, more than 149 million people lived in urban areas. In 1990, that number had risen to more than 187 million people. Not everyone who lived in an urban area lived in the heart of a city. Many suburbs had grown so much that they were big enough to be considered urban areas themselves. This caused problems known collectively (as a whole) as “urban sprawl.” Traffic and commuting times increased.

Smog, a form of air pollution, caused air quality to decline in many areas. Studies showed that car exhaust and other pollution sources caused health and environmental problems.

To control growing air pollution, the government began to regulate emissions, substances released into the air. The Clean Air Act of 1970 provided for state and federal regulation of emissions and for enforcement of those regulations. In the same year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established. It was the EPA’s job to make sure that these regulations were created and put into practice.

Into the 1990s

George H. W. Bush, 1989- 1993

The economy had grown throughout Reagan’s presidency. In 1990, however, foreign and domestic problems led the nation into a recession. US businesses downsized, or cut back, in order to be more efficient. The rising national deficit also hurt the economy. The government had to borrow money to pay the interest on the national debt, which is the money owed by the national government. Despite a campaign promise, Bush was forced to raise taxes. Once again, many Americans were unhappy with the government and the direction of the nation. In the presidential election of 1992, Bush was defeated by Democratic candidate Bill Clinton.

William Jefferson Clinton, 1993-2001

Bill Clinton campaigned as a new kind of Democrat. In general, Democrats are considered liberals. Liberals believe that government should regulate industries in order to protect citizens. They also believe in strong government social programs. Clinton promised to cut government spending and taxes. He also promised to reform health care and government welfare programs. Clinton believed that the key to economic growth was to lower interest rates. To do this, he had to reduce the budget deficit. Even though he had promised to cut taxes, he and Congress passed tax increases. They also agreed on legislation that required a balanced budget. The economy began to turn around. A boom began that turned out to be the longest period of economic growth in US history.

During Clinton’s first term, an independent investigator was appointed to look into some business deals that Clinton was involved in as governor of Arkansas. Investigator Kenneth Starr later also examined whether the president had lied under oath when asked about his relationship with a White House intern. Starr’s report led to impeachment hearings. The House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment. However, the Senate vote was short of the two-thirds majority needed to impeach.

The Technological Revolution

The economic boom was helped by the development of new technologies. Technologies are the machines and equipment developed from advances in scientific knowledge. The size, cost, and speed of computers was continually improving. In the late 1970s, companies such as Apple and IBM introduced new computers that were meant to be used at home.

In the 1990s, advances continued. Computers became faster and more powerful. The Internet connected computers all over the world. E-mail allowed people to communicate instantly. Cell phones became small and inexpensive enough for many people to use regularly. These new technologies made businesses more productive. Companies began selling products and services online. Some businesses, such as Amazon, exist only online.