Long-Term Unemployment Trend Is Good for Obama

Long-Term Unemployment Trend Is Good for Obama


by Marvin King

The unemployment rate dropped to 8.6% on news that 120,000 jobs were added in November and previous estimates were revised upwards showing an additional 72,000 new jobs added in September and October. This is good news – although critics are right to point out that because 315,000 people dropped out of the labor market there remain too many frustrated job seekers.

While no one in the White House is popping champagne bottles at this news undoubtedly this news is better than the alternative. Obama’s reelection chances are a function of the economy, but this news has to be heartening. If we remember back to the heavy job losses when he assumed office in January, 2009, the overall employment situation is in a much better place than when he assumed office.

That is not to say past econometric models (wonky) are wrong. Also, of course Europe’s mess could still drag down the U.S economy in unforeseen ways.  Most Americans do not blame Obama personally for the heavy job losses suffered at the beginning of his term in 2009. In fact, America lost more jobs in 2008 (before Obama took office) than in any year since 1945 when cutbacks in military spending ground the economy to a halt. Halfway through 2011 more Americans blamed Bush’s actions for the economic crisis than blamed Obama.

And, even though Obama does now have “ownership’ of the economy now, as long as the trends remain favorable his chances for reelection remain positive.

Let’s look at the last few presidents for a historical comparison. When George H.W. Bush took office in January 1989, the unemployment rate was 5.4%, yet had gone up two full points by the time Bill Clinton took office in January 1993 when it had reached 7.3%. Clinton’s well-chronicled economic successes helped drop the unemployment rate to 4.2% when he handed the reins to Bush.

The unemployment rate during George W. Bush’s first term went up to 5.4% by the time American’s reelected him to a second term in 2004. For the most part Americans did not punish Bush for rising unemployment because they saw many jobs losses as caused by 9/11 (and it didn’t help the Democrats that John Kerry ran a very uninspiring campaign). So, I don’t buy arguments that it has to be improving for a president to win reelection.

Since Obama became president the unemployment rate peaked at 10.1% in October of 2009, but now it is down to 8.6%. No matter how critics want to spin those numbers, the needle is moving in the right direction. The unemployment rate will not reach four or five percent in 2012, but I believe Americans will ultimately judge Obama by the long-term trend and evidence shows it is moving that way.

All unemployment data comes from Economagic.com.

Marvin King received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of North Texas and is now an Associate Professor of Political Science with a joint appointment in the African American Studies Program at the University of Mississippi. He conducts research into how political institutions affect African American politics. Marvin is available for public speaking engagements and you can follow him on Twitter @kingpolitics