Topics in the News
Among the most important and divisive issues in the cultural politics of the United States during the 1990s was the debate about the rights of children. From the outset, the Clinton administration, largely at the initiative of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, gave the issue top priority. The emphasis on children, however, enabled activists and politicians alike to use the issue as political leverage. "I can win any argument by saying we need welfare reform, but not at the cost of the children," remarked Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) in 1995. For Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), poverty remained the single most devastating problem facing children in the United States. Her proposed solution was straightforward: the federal government must give poor families more money. Many of Edelman's opponents, however, charged that her focus on children masked her real objective—to end poverty for people of all ages through the expenditure of federal revenue. In a general sense, Edelman's basic position remained extremely popular with Americans throughout the decade. A Time/CNN poll conducted in 1996, for example, found that 73 percent of Americans surveyed favored allocating additional tax dollars to programs designed to benefit children. Yet, despite this apparent national consensus, as the 1990s drew to a close,...
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Crazes, Fads, and Trends
Americans went crazy for coffee during the 1990s. They enjoyed gourmet coffees at neighborhood coffeehouses and bought specialty coffees to drink at home. In the 1980s such companies as Peet's Coffee & Tea and Starbucks Coffee helped to make gourmet coffees more widely available and thus enhanced their popularity. By the 1990s coffee bars and coffeehouses appeared everywhere, including in bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders. Coffee bars became convenient places for men and women to meet and socialize. The appeal of coffee during the decade came about in part because the beverage gave consumers an opportunity to treat themselves to an affordable luxury.
Among the most unexpected fads of the 1990s was the incredible popularity of premium cigars. Throughout much of the decade, the Cigar Manufacturers Association reported, the annual sale and price of premium cigars escalated at unprecedented rates. Between 1993 and 1998 sales of premium cigars more than tripled. Many industry experts trace the origins of the cigar boom to the introduction of Cigar Aficionado, a publication of Marvin Shanken Communications, that promoted not only cigar smoking, but the upscale lifestyle that apparently accompanied it. Cigar smoking had a special appeal among young men and women in their twenties and thirties, whose...
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The New Extended Family.
The "new extended family," the stepfamily, the "recombinant family," the "blended family": by whatever name, such familial configurations became the standard in American society during the 1990s. The government estimated that by the year 2007, stepfamilies would outnumber traditional nuclear families. In 1999 there were already more than 5.5 million stepfamilies in the United States. Although the members of many stepfamilies made the necessary adjustments and compromises, there remained a sizable number of such families that struggled or failed. A variety of studies collectively demonstrated that stepchildren were more likely to become disciplinary problems, perform poorly in school, have to repeat a grade, or drop out of school altogether than children who lived in traditional, two-parent homes. American children living in stepfamilies were less likely to go to college or to receive financial support from their family if they did. Worse, according to the extensive research of Martin Daly and Margo Wilson of McMaster University in Ontario, stepchildren were more commonly the victims of physical and sexual abuse, and were one hundred times more likely to be killed by a stepparent than by their biological parents. Such studies fueled the conservative indictment of step-families as unnatural arrangements and the consequent push for stronger "pro-family" social policies...
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The Critique of Feminism.
The rallying cry "women's liberation" entered the English language during the 1960s. More than thirty years later, few countries around the world were without a women's movement, and few governments were immune to its demands. During the 1990s traditional notions of female roles continued to erode, and the "gender gap" narrowed. The women's movement in the United States made enormous progress in ending discrimination in education, government, employment, and the law. Throughout the decade, However, more and more American women began to criticize the feminist agenda as irrelevant to their lives. "If you become a doctor, the feminists are right behind you," declared nurse midwife LaVonne Wilenken of Antelope Valley, California, in 1994, but "they've done very little for the average woman." This sentiment became more widespread. Women who were minorities, poor, fulfilling traditional roles of wife and mother, and doing traditional jobs all acknowledged their debt to feminism. At the same time, however, many of them charged that the movement had failed to broaden its base and that it remained composed primarily of white, educated, and affluent women who had not adequately addressed issues important to nonwhite, less-well-educated, and less-affluent women. The feminist movement of the 1990s, these women maintained, focused on abortion and lesbian rights rather than child...
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Guns in America
In the wake of the assassinations of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (4 April 1968) and Senator Robert F. Kennedy (5 June 1968), the United States Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968. For more than thirty years this legislation defined federal gun policy. It banned most interstate sales of firearms, licensed most gun dealers, and barred felons, minors, and the mentally ill from purchasing and owning guns. Culturally, the law represented a brief national revulsion against gun violence. Recent gun-control legislation has been more contentious and less extensive. During the first years of the Clinton administration the Democratic Congress enacted the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993), which required a five-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns and banned certain assault weapons. Since 1994, however, efforts to pass major antigun legislation have slowed. More modest pieces of legislation, such as a proposal for safety locks on guns, stand the best chance of success. Meanwhile, many state laws have begun to favor the rights of gun owners, including the right of any citizen without a criminal record to carry concealed weapons, which is now legal in thirty-one states.
According to a survey conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates during August 1999, 74 percent of Americans...
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Home and Community
Safe and Sound.
As diverse as their generation is, "security issues tie all baby-boomers together," observed Elizabeth Falconer, owner of Position By Design, located in Grand Prairie, Texas. Denver architect Michael Knorr agreed. "I don't know if it's growing up with the Cold War and surviving or what," Knorr declared, "but we seem to have an incredible need for security." The increased need for personal security among baby boomers prompted many builders during the 1990s to include home-security systems as standard features in all their units. Designers of luxury homes also offered "safe rooms" concealed underneath stairs, behind built-in bookshelves, or inside closets.
Other trends in home design that became popular during the 1990s included the addition of media rooms, home theaters, home offices, megabaths, and special-interest rooms, such as reading and music rooms, to support a variety of interests and hobbies. Joan McCloskey, building editor of Better Homes and Gardens, pointed out that boomers also wanted yards and neighborhoods with parks, wilderness areas, and gardens. As more elderly parents or adult children unable to find work, or if employed, unable to afford homes of their own, move in, baby boomers want flexible floor plans with rooms that can be used either as offices or bedrooms. With the ownership of...
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The dynamic of homosexual politics in the 1990s consisted of gays and lesbians trying to establish themselves in mainstream American life and the efforts of conservatives to resist such a fundamental cultural change. Many Americans, meanwhile, seem to have drifted toward a somewhat uneasy accommodation with homosexuality. According to a Time/CNN poll conducted in 1998, 64 percent of those questioned believed that homosexual relations were acceptable, while 48 percent thought them morally wrong. Twenty years earlier, in 1978, 53 percent of Americans thought homosexual relations were morally unacceptable and only 41 percent found them permissible. Indisputably, there were more gay men and women visible in American society during the 1990s than at any other time in U.S. history "think we've done a great deal of persuading people that we are not a countercultural force," explained Andrew Sullivan, the author of Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival (1998) and former editor of the New Republic. "We are a mainstream force." As a consequence of the homosexual embrace of mainstream society, antigay activists had to alter their basic strategy. No longer able to demonize homosexuals, critics, such as Senate majority leader Chester Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), compared them to individuals who were afflicted with alcoholism or kleptomania, regarding...
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The Internet Revolution
Wearing smart, tailored business suits or sneakers and khakis may not fit the stereotype, but Jeffrey P. Bezos, Meg Whitman, and Jay Walker were 1990s-style revolutionaries. Each heads a company that radically transformed the way Americans and people around the world shop. Although online shopping represented only a small fraction of total consumer sales, that fraction did not exist as recently as 1995. As of 1999 the estimated revenue generated from e-commerce exceeded $184 billion. Yet, this figure constituted only 1 percent of the American economy, and online sales accounted for approximately .2 percent of total retail sales. These statistics produced a few skeptics. Stephen Roach, chief global economist at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, for instance, suspects that e-commerce is being "'oversold." "I question if it'll ever be big," Roach admitted. Such doubts notwithstanding, a few years ago no one had heard of Bezos, Whitman, and Walker; now their companies are household names. Bezos built Amazon.com into the largest bookseller in the world and has recently expanded it to sell videos, compact discs, toys, tools, electronics, and a host of other items. Whitman, the CEO of the online auction site eBay.com, insists that "we are enabling a kind of commerce that didn't exist to any extent before and that's person-to-person...
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The Rise of Incivility.
Incivility seemed to penetrate every aspect of American life during the 1990s. A survey conducted in February 1996 by U.S. News & World Report and Bozell Worldwide revealed that 90 percent of Americans believed incivility in speech and conduct was a serious social problem. Seventy-eight percent of respondents thought that the problem had worsened during the 1990s, and more than 84 percent saw in incivility evidence of social disorder portending crisis and collapse. The poll concluded that a vast majority of Americans felt themselves embattled, and perhaps imperiled, in their personal and professional lives by the rising tide of vulgarity, discourtesy, and inconsideration. Many Americans came to believe that the real issue underlying bad manners was the loss of a basic sense of respect for others. "You cannot have a complex society in which you do not hear the other party, the antagonist," explained Martin Marty, a noted scholar of religion, in 1996. "The alternative to civility is first incivility," Marty concluded, "and then it is war."
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The New Spiritualism
In 1981 pollster Daniel Yankelovich estimated that 80 percent of Americans were affected, either strongly or marginally, by some form of spiritualism and the ethos of self-help and fulfillment. Ten years later a survey commissioned by the City University of New York to gather data on American religious beliefs and attitudes found only 28,000 Americans willing to identify themselves with significant aspects of New Age spiritualism. These statistics, which forecast the apparent demise of the New Age spiritualist movement in the United States, did not tell the full story. One indication that spiritualism continued to thrive in the United States during the 1990s was the market, numbering in the millions, for New Age books, audiotapes, and videos. The number of New Age book-stores in the United States during the 1990s exceeded five thousand. According to David S. Toolan, S. J., the "crystal gazers and psychic channelers are the lunatic fringe" of the spiritualist movement. Most 1990s New Agers, Toolan argued, although more liminal than most Americans, share with many of their middle-class brethren a sense that the 'American Dream" had broken down and that economic, social, political, educational, and ecclesiastical institutions no longer functioned well. For New Agers, modern life is superficial, hollow, and meaningless. Yet, they have not responded to the crisis of American civilization...
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Pets in the 1990s
Pets of all kinds became increasingly prominent in U.S. households during the 1990s. According to a 1996 survey undertaken by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 59 percent of American households owned at least one pet. Yet, the same survey also indicated that as the population aged, the percentage of pet-owning households declined. In 1996, 27 percent of American households owned a cat, down from 31 percent in 1987. Those who did own pets, however, were likely to own more of them in the 1990s than a decade earlier. The average number of dogs in households was 1.69 in 1996, up from 1.51 in 1987. The average number of cats was 2.19 in 1996, up from 1.95 in 1987. The total number of dogs owned increased from 52.4 million in 1987 to 52.9 million in 1996; cats increased from 54.6 million to 59.1 million during that same period. In addition to these animals, Americans during the 1990s owned 13 million birds, 4 million horses, 6 million rabbits, 6 million ferrets, 5 million rodents, 3.5 million reptiles, and 56 million fish. Sixty-eight percent of owners consider their pets members of the family. Thirty-seven percent carried pictures of their pets in their wallets; 31 percent took days off from work when their pets were ill; 28 percent talked to their pets on the telephone; 27 percent celebrated their pets' birthdays with a party; 79 percent allowed their pets to...
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Race and Ethnicity
The Politics of Race Relations.
In proposing a national "conversation" on race in 1996, President Clinton asked "can we fulfill the promise of America by embracing all our citizens of all races.… Can we become one America in the 21st century?" If the United States could become "the worlds first truly great multiracial, multiethnic democracy," Clinton declared, then it would "rewrite the rules of human evolution." Clinton's avowed political purpose in announcing this dialogue was to defend preferential forms of affirmative action. Yet, despite the president's aspirations, only 4 percent of the respondents to a 1996 Pew Research Center survey thought race relations a serious enough problem to be a top priority of the federal government. Data complied from several sources suggested that the continued government policy of defining people according to racial criteria was in part responsible for the mounting tensions that surfaced during the 1990s among African Americans, whites, Asians, and Hispanics. These tensions were perhaps most dramatically exemplified by the trials of Rodney King and O. J. Simpson, in which many perceived blacks as feeling a stronger allegiance to the members of their racial group than to fellow citizens and to be more concerned with their own advancement than with the achievement of justice.
Racial and Ethnic Convergence....
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Work, Workers, and the Workplace
During the 1990s, Americans became the workaholics of the world. Between 1977 and 1997 the average workweek among salaried employees working at least twenty hours lengthened from forty-three to forty-seven hours. During that same twenty-year period, according to James T. Bond, vice president of the Families and Work Institute, the number of workers putting in fifty or more hours per week increased from 24 percent to 37 percent. Americans who once viewed the work habits of the Japanese with horrified awe became the people working the longest hours in the industrial world. The average American worked the equivalent of eight weeks a year longer than the average Western European. In Norway and Sweden, for example, workers commonly receive between four and six weeks of vacation and up to a year of paid parental leave. In France, a maximum workweek of no more than thirty-five hours, promoted by the socialist government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin as a means of reducing unemployment, is becoming the law of the land. The longer hours Americans spend on the job, however, have thus far translated into lower unemployment rates and greater prosperity in the United States. Approximately 10 percent unemployment was the norm across Western Europe. In the United States, by contrast, unemployment hovered at around 4.2 percent and, as of January 2000, economic expansion had continued for an...
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Chopra, Deepak 1947-
NEW AGE GURU, DOCTOR, AUTHOR, ENTREPRENEUR
"The Bearer of True Enlightenment."
One of the more influential New Age writers, educators, lecturers, and gurus to the rich and famous was Indian-born Deepak Chopra. A medical doctor by profession, Chopra, through a series of best-selling books, tapes, and lectures, made believers out of thousands of Americans with a message that combines medical and spiritual advice. His words have helped to soothe the sense of emptiness that many Americans confess is now a part of their lives.
Setting the Stage.
Chopra arrived in the United States in 1970 as a Western-trained medical doctor. Gradually, he became known as "The Lord of Immortality," a prominent spokesman for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation movement. Since that time he has emerged as a personality in his own right, having written nineteen books that have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He has given on average fifty lectures a year, and has been the personal spiritual advisor to many celebrities, including Demi Moore, George Harrison, Madonna, and the...
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McCartney, Bill 1940-
FORMER FOOTBALL COACH, FOUNDER OF PROMISE KEEPERS
"The Game of His Life."
All his life, Bill McCartney knew he was going to be a coach. "I never saw myself doing anything else," he once told an interviewer. After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1962, McCartney coached highschool football for twelve years before landing his first collegiate position as a defensive coordinator for the University of Michigan Wolverines in 1974. By 1982, McCartney and his family were on their way to the University of Colorado, located in Boulder, where McCartney had agreed to take on the floundering Buffaloes. In his determination to rebuild the ailing football program, however, McCartney neglected to check on the status of his own family.
Life With Father.
In the next few years, McCartney saw his struggling program grow stronger. In 1989 he was named Coach of the Year. In 1991, almost a decade after arriving in Boulder, he led his seemingly invincible Buffaloes to victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Orange Bowl. All the accolades, however, could not disguise trouble at home. One of his daughters became pregnant twice by different players on his football squad. His remaining children moved out, leaving him alone with a wife who suffered from depression. McCartney realized he had lost his way....
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Popcorn, Faith 1947-
Decried by some as nothing more than an old-fashioned scam artist, revered by others as nothing short of a miracle worker, professional futurist Faith Popcorn has been credited with coining and pinpointing several trends that marked the decade of the 1990s. Companies such as Reebok, BMW, IBM, Philip Morris, and American Express pay Popcorn and her New York firm, Brain Reserve, millions of dollars to help them create marketing strategies and products, and, when necessary, to revamp old products with a new packaging. Her views on everything from throwaway products ("People just don't get attached to things the way they used to") to boxer shorts ("People think, 'Maybe if I wear them, everything will be alright'") have been quoted throughout the media.
The Way the World Is Going.
Popcorn, born Faith Plotkin, started out working in advertizing. By the mid 1980s she had moved to Brain Reserve where she hoped to show her clients "which way the world was going." Her early predictions included "Cocooning," that is, settling at home with fancy and expensive takeout food and a video instead of...
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Schlessinger, Dr. Laura C. 1947-
For three hours every day, Dr. Laura C. Schlessinger dispenses advice while pointing out the shortcomings of people who call in to her radio show, which reaches millions of listeners. On any given day, more than fifty thousand persons will jam the phone lines for a chance to converse with her about a myriad of problems—the state of marriage, abortion, relationships, and a host of other topics. For Dr. Laura, it is business as usual. For her listeners, it means an opportunity to solve puzzling difficulties or to hear that they are not alone. In addition, for those who do not listen to the radio, Dr. Lauras advice is also available in her syndicated columns running in at least fifty-five newspapers nationwide, or in her three popular books: Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives (1995), Ten Stupid Things Men Do To Mess Up Their Lives (1997), and How Could You Do That?: The Abdication of Character, Courage and Conscience (1996). For many, Dr. Laura's success has come out of her ability to take aim and fire at the attitudes of the "Me Generation," which often amounted to an abdication of personal...
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Stewart, Martha 1941-E
Teaching people how to set the right kind of table, or create an elegant dessert, or make the perfect Christmas wreath may have been enough for Martha Stewart in the 1980s. In the 1990s, however, Stewart set out to conquer the world. In 1997, aligning herself in a newly revised business partnership with the discount retailer K-Mart, Stewart unveiled a series of products from sheets to paint designed to increase the sales and profits of both K-Mart and herself. She also weighed in on issues from dyeing Easter eggs to collecting glass in her "ask Martha" newspaper column that reached an estimated eighty-eight million readers a month, launched a new web business that combined how-to advice with the sales of related domestic merchandise, and appeared on her own television program. Probably the biggest event though of the Stewart story was the unveiling of Martha as stock entity when shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia went public in October 1999.
The Everyday Martha.
People across the United States have listened to Stewart's...
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People in the News
On 12 March 1992, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, partners in the multimillion-dollar television Praise the Lord (PTL) evangelism empire before he went to prison for fleecing his flock, notified the public they were divorcing. Tammy Faye had decided to divorce her husband after thirty-one years of marriage. He got the news at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was serving an eighteen-year sentence.
On 23 June 1993, in Manassas, Virginia, John Wayne Bobbitt reported to police that his wife, Lorena, had amputated his penis while he slept and threw it away while driving from the couple's home. It was later recovered, put on ice, and taken to the hospital where the appendage was reattached. Bobbitt was later acquitted of marital sexual assault; Lorena was acquitted of malicious wounding by reason of insanity.
In 1998, Chuck Burris was sworn in as the first African American mayor of Stone Mountain, Georgia, the longtime headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1996 First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton published It Takes A Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us, a combined autobiographical account of her relationship with daughter Chelsea and her thoughts on childrearing. The book stayed on the best-seller chart for twenty weeks. Although criticized for her timing—publishing the work just...
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Ralph David Abernathy, 64, reverend, civilrights activist, and chief aide to Martin Luther King Jr., 17 April 1990.
Cleveland Amory, 81, author of Who Killed Society (1960) and The Cat Who Came For Christmas (1988) and animal-rights activist who founded the Fund for Animals, 14 October 1998.
Erma Bombeck, 69, humorist and author whose experiences as wife and mother provided subjects for a syndicated column and six books, 22 April 1996.
Leo F. Buscaglia, 74, writer and lecturer who promoted the power of love as a healing force, known as the "Hug Doctor," 12 June 1998.
Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), 57, civilrights activist and revolutionary, 15 November 1998.
Carlos Castaneda, 72, author of ten books detailing his experiences with mysticism and psychedelic drugs during the 1960s, 27 April 1998.
Eldridge Cleaver, 62, Black Power advocate, author of Soul on Ice (1968), and leading member of the Black Panthers, 2 May 1998.
Henry Steele Commager, 95, U.S. historian, 2 March 1998.
Walter E. Diemer, 93, inventor of bubble gum, 8 January 1998.
Judith Campbell Exner, 65, alleged mistress of John F. Kennedy, 24 September 1999....
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Edward J. Blakely and Mary Gail Snyder, Fortress America: Gated Communities in the United States (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1997).
Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1990).
Faria Chideya, The Color of Our Future (New York: Morrow, 1999).
Deepak Chopra, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old (New York: Harmony Books, 1993).
Chopra, Creating Affluence: Wealth Consciousness in the Field All Possibilities (San Raphael, Cal.: New World Publishing, 1993).
Hillary Rodham Clinton, It Takes A Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).
Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families: Building a Beautiful Family Culture in a Turbulent World (New York: Golden Books, 1997).
Tom Diaz, Making A Killing: The Business of Guns in America (New York: New Press, 1999).
Esther Dyson, Release 2.1: A Design For Living in the Digital Age (New York: Broadway Books, 1998).
Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (New York: Crown, 1991).
Faludi, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the...
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- A poll shows that football is the nation's favorite sport, with 35 percent of Americans counting themselves as fans. Baseball remains a distant second at 16 percent.
- "Politically correct," or "PC," gains wide usage in an effort to rid the English language of racism and sexism. For example, "enslaved person" becomes PC for "slave" because it emphasizes the personhood of the oppressed. "Differently abled" becomes the politically correct term for "disabled." "Humankind" replaces "mankind" and "longer-living" is the PC term for "old."
- On January 1, Maryland becomes the first state to ban the sale of cheap handguns known as "Saturday night specials."
- On March 22, the first edition of Microsoft Windows 3.0 is shipped to consumers.
- On March 27, a government report states that Americans spend more than $30 billion each year on weight loss products and programs that officials consider to be dangerous or ineffective.
- In April, the minimum wage is raised to $3.80 an hour.
- On June 6, Greyhound Bus Lines files for bankruptcy.
- On June 30, the National Academy of Science announces that the AIDS epidemic is spreading to new groups in society, most specifically to African American and Hispanic women.
- On July 26, President...
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