Monday, May 21, 2012

The Happiness Index

President Obama promised us that passing his so-called stimulus bill would keep the unemployment rate below 8%... and how did that work out for everyone?  He got his bill passed, but we still ended up with unemployment stuck above 8% for three years straight, and the Misery Index has been above 10% since November 2009.

The recession ended in June 2009, but only in the most technical sense... when at least 76% of the population thinks we are still in a recession, that should tell you something about how weak the economy really is.  This hasn't stopped Obama from repeatedly trying to claim credit for bringing about some sort of miraculous economic recovery.  If this is what he thinks a successful recovery looks like, then I'd hate to see how bad things would have to get for him to ever admit failure.

As bad as unemployment has been and continues to be, the official unemployment rate leaves out several pieces of data that would paint an even bleaker picture of the unemployment situation.  The alternative ways of measuring unemployment have their uses, but the 1994 changes that the Bureau of Labor Statistics made to these methodologies can sometimes make it difficult to compare apples to apples.

I thought it might be interesting to see what would happen to the Misery Index if it could also account for those who have become so discouraged that they simply gave up looking for work.  Instead of trying to rejigger a new Misery Index by using the U4 unemployment rate in place of the standard rate, I decided to just turn the Misery Index on its head.  Instead of adding inflation to unemployment, I subtracted inflation from the employment-to-population ratio... I call this the Happiness Index, since it's a sort of Bizarro version of the Misery Index.  I averaged the monthly data for each presidential term going all the way back to Truman's second term, and then created this graphic to show the Happiness Index for each term:

Are you happier now than you were four years ago?

Obama's term is not yet complete, but I included his average so far just for the sake of comparison... you have to go back to Reagan's first term to find a worse number than Obama's, and Reagan was at least moving things significantly in the right direction.

Despite the 9/11 attacks and the bursting of the tech bubble, George W. Bush's first term still managed the second highest Happiness Index shown here... the numbers for Bush's second term are not as good as his first, but are still the fourth best.  While Bush was in office, we kept hearing the phrase "jobless recovery" over and over again, but so far it looks like the best Obama can do is not nearly as good as Bush's worst.

Update: Oh, so the lousy economy is all Bush's fault?  Fine... let's see what happens to the numbers when you take the first year of Obama's term and place it at the end of Bush's second term.  This would give Bush a slightly lower Happiness Index of 59.35 percent, and bring Obama's number down to 55.99 percent.  Why stop there?  Let's also place Obama's second year in office at the end of Bush's term and see what happens.  This would give Bush 58.94 percent and Obama 55.14 percent.  It seems like the more of a grace period we try to give Obama, the worse his numbers get.  This is because Obama's monthly Happiness Index didn't hit bottom until 2011, when it reached 54.53 percent in both August and September... you have to go all the way back to March 1984 to find a lower monthly number.

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