From the People Who Brought You Misery...
By Bernie Horn
September 5, 2008 - 10:28am ET
Misery in America has risen to record levels—according to the Bush administration!
This morning, the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent for August 2008, a substantial increase from July’s rate of 5.7 percent. This is the highest unemployment America has seen in five years.
PodcastHear Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel discuss today's unemployment report and how it should affect the debate on how to stimulate the economy.
Those of you who were around for the Carter and Reagan campaigns, do you remember the “misery index”? The misery index is an economic indicator that combines unemployment and inflation rates. It was created by Arthur Okun, a highly-respected economist who served as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Lyndon Johnson.
As a result of today’s unemployment statistics, the misery index is up to 11.7 percent (6.1 percent unemployment plus 5.6 percent inflation). The misery index is now worse than it’s been in any month since May 1991. We haven’t been this miserable in more than 17 years.
Progressives should be talking about the misery index right now. It is a terrific message frame.
Polls show that Americans believe we’re in a recession. But because “recession” is a technical term and economists can’t say whether the economy meets the definition, progressive candidates and leaders shy away from using the word.
They can get the same idea across by using the misery index. And what a descriptive term that is! Who can doubt that the economy is miserable?
Many of you remember that the misery index played an important role in the presidential campaigns of 1976 and 1980. In ’76, Jimmy Carter charged that no one responsible for a high misery index should be reelected president. (It was a little over 13 percent that fall.) Ronald Reagan famously turned the misery index against Carter in ’80, pointing out that stagflation had increased the index to more than 20 percent.
Once again the unemployment and inflation are increasing at the same time. Let’s talk about our nation’s misery.
For a convenient listing of the monthly misery index since 1948, click here.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the recent book, Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People.
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Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future