06 Sep 2008

Unemployment Rate

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Everyone is of course commenting about the recent unemployment figures–the highest in five years–and so I will naturally weigh in. Sean Hannity said that the liberal media was doing its best to distort things and usher in Democratic wins in November, but in reality (Hannity claimed) the average unemployment rate during George Bush’s presidency has been lower than the average of the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

At first I thought this was wrong; I was pretty sure the average in the 1990s was lower than under W., and I thought that even if not, it would only be because of the high rates under George Herbert Walker Bush. However, I was wrong: The average unemployment rate during the 1990s was 5.8%, while under W. it’s been 5.2%. And this also is exactly tied with Bill Clinton, measuring the Clinton years from January 1993 through December 2000, he also presided over a 5.2% average unemployment rate.

According to my Excel skills, Hannity was only wrong about the 1960s: they had the lowest rate of 4.8%. The 1970s was 6.2%, and–surprise!–the worst period was the 1980s, with a rate of 7.3%. The official chart is below (click to enlarge).

Of course, in all of this I am taking the BLS’ numbers at face value. People whom I respect say that (during the Clinton years) the BLS changed the way it computes the number, for example by excluding people who have become “discouraged” and stop seeking a job. If this is true–and I have yet to personally investigate–then it makes our current numbers rosier than they really are; i.e. our current unemployment rate would be higher, under the old method of computation.

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