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What Does an 8.3 Percent Unemployment Rate Mean for the Election?

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Photo courtesy of Bekit/Flickr

Many pundits (including this one) have made the point that if the unemployment rate is at 8% or higher that the president will have an uphill battle to win the election.

The reason why 8% is such a hurdle is that no modern president has ever won re-election when unemployment was over 8%. Actually, if one wants to take an even more skeptical view, they could say that no president since Roosevelt has won re-election with unemployment over 7.2%.

Last Friday, the nation discovered that in July the unemployment had risen to 8.3% and although this signifies a very small (and possibly numerically insignificant) increase in unemployment, it will help people make up their mind on who they’ll be voting for. This is not because, there is some magical property to an 8% unemployment rate, but simply because people will vote based on how they feel the economy is moving.

Right now, for most people, the economy feels flat. We are far from the 7.8% unemployment rate that Obama began his presidency with. In other words, the trajectory isn’t as good as American’s expected it to be. But speaking about unemployment alone misses the picture. The real story here isn’t the number of American’s that are unemployed (a relatively small voting block), it’s the number of American’s who are employed but earning significantly less than they used to. That statistic would speak volumes about the election, too bad it’s not easy to find.

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