Issues & Insights

The Dreaded Misery Index Is On The Rise Under Biden

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Young adults today are likely unfamiliar with the term “misery index.” But they could soon learn about it the hard way, thanks to President Joe Biden’s economic incompetence.

The misery index, a measure started under President Lyndon Johnson, is a simple measure combining the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. The idea being that joblessness and a fast-rising cost of living produces palpable misery in the country.

The index has long been forgotten because it’s been so low for so long. It hit a high of 21.9 under Jimmy Carter way back in 1980, but by the end of President Reagan’s first term, it had been cut in half. The average under President Donald Trump was just 6.9.

The misery index spiked at the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns, jumping from 5.94 to over 15 in one month with the surge in unemployment. But then it quickly dissipated, as the economy under Trump rebounded faster than the so-called experts had predicted. By the time Trump left office, the misery index was back down to 7.7.

A funny thing has happened since.

The misery index has climbed each and every month that Joe Biden has been president. In February, it ticked up to 7.9, then rose to 8.6 in March. Last month, the misery index hit 11.3, as the monthly inflation rate climbed to 5.4% while the unemployment rate edged up to 5.9%.

That means the misery index is now higher than it has been (pre-pandemic) since the Great Recession. It’s also higher than the post-World War II average of 9.2. Under Trump, it averaged 6.9, the third-lowest of any postwar president.

What’s driving the current rise in the misery index?

Biden and his fellow Democrats decided to pass another massive COVID-19 bailout — the “American Rescue Plan” — despite warnings from even liberal economists that flooding the economy with another $2 trillion in cash posed a serious risk of inflation.

Despite repeated assurances from the White House and the mainstream press earlier in the year that this was just a blip, the inflation rate has been steadily climbing. The June inflation number was the biggest increase since 2008.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, principally because Biden and the Democrats who control Congress extended the hugely misguided unemployment bonus (which they also insisted be a part of the original CARES Act ). For nearly half the workforce, being unemployed is currently more lucrative than collecting a paycheck.

A Morning Consult survey out on Wednesday made the impact of this clear. It found that almost 2 million adults say they’ve turned down jobs because the unemployment benefits are so generous.

Here again, the White House says this is a non-issue. Biden dismissed the suggestion that the $300 weekly bonus was a reason why 9 million jobs are going begging while 9 million adults collect unemployment, saying “we don’t see much evidence of that.”

A new survey of small businesses by the National Federation of Independent Business provides plenty of such evidence. The survey found that “many firms can’t hire enough workers to efficiently run their businesses, restricting sales and output.”

The NFIB survey also found that “the net percent of owners raising average selling prices increased 7 points to a net 47%, seasonally adjusted, the highest reading since January 1981.” That was right around when the misery index was at its Carter-stagflation-era peak.

Right now, the public might not be feeling the pinch of the misery index because checks from the government are acting as a temporary salve (which for the time being now includes not only the $300 weekly unemployment bonus but a monthly $300 per-child check).

But it isn’t going entirely unnoticed. The IBD/TIPP economic optimism index dropped in July, while the poll’s measure of financial stress climbed. The poll also found the public’s support for Biden’s handling of the economy took a hit.

Biden came into office promising to rescue the economy. Instead, he’s managed to resurrect the specter of 1970s-style misery.

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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7 comments

  • The misery index expansion is a deliberate policy product of DNC central (political) planners. Though they will of course deny it, and like the border blame it on Trump or climate change. The idea is to expand the DNC power base, and further the quest for absolute dictatorial power (like blue state governors had with COVID, but made permanent even without COVID). There is a plan, and a method to the madness.

    More misery means more government/deep state police powers, to counter the artificially-created misery. The party is supreme, more important than the country. So any appeals that the policies are bad for the USA fall on deaf ears. For example, ending USA energy self-sufficiency in favor of more OPEC oil, and raising gasoline prices towards the highly-inflationary $5 level. Also, no coincidence that children are aggressively “imported” from south of the border (Haitians & Cubans excluded, as they might grow up and vote GOP), with monthly bounties paid per child to caretakers. Vote Dem for permanent monthly child bounties is the message. A good “insurance” policy: in case future swing state elections successfully “suppress” the fraudulent votes. Misery and chaos worked well for Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917, and the recipe has been exported worldwide and now is being implemented in the USA (street chaos, followed by seizure of the institutions of national political power). The Dems have another $9 trillion planned (infrastructure = welfare), and perhaps enough useful GOP dupes lined up to make it work (under the anti-Trump banner). Making “inflation” and “misery” into a “bipartisan” policy is smart politics. Give delusional GOP members enough rope, and they will hang themselves and their party. If the GOP party commits suicide by co-sponsoring the “misery” policies, what’s left will be a one-party USA state (not GOP), communist-Cuba style. Schumer and Pelosi will be on top of the world.

  • If you want to compare Biden’s Misery Index to Carter’s, you should use the inflation calculation from Carter’s era. The method of calculating inflation — which categories of products to include and which to exclude — has changed over the years. Biden’s Misery Index would be much higher if you used Carter-era calculations.

  • I am not really sure how people label, recognize, think of Misery in general. I am 92 and my arthritis makes me miserable. On the other hand, I am delighted that I continue to have a full and fairly healthy life. Misery, then, needs careful qualification.
    I have much less Misery now that Trump and his gang of ill-prepared stoges are out of power. I do have misery when I consider climate change.
    I have sheer delight with the plans the Biden administration is trying to bring to our needed infrastructure, health programs, child care etc etc
    I do, though have Misery when I see nearly the entire GOP party embraces or refusing to accept the simple and proven fact that Biden won the election and is the legal and legitimate person in the White House.

    • How sad that your “misery” and “delight” is based upon what politicians in Washington are doing.

    • Glad you lived to be 92. Hard to understand after 92 years on this earth you have learned nothing. Did you read the latest study on carbon footprints where cities make up 2% of the earths land area but contibute 70% of the pollution worldwide? 23 of the top 25 cities polluting the air are in China. Biden could shut down all of America and it would reduce carbon pollution by 20% would that be acceptable for you globally. Of course 98% of Americans will die but the Chinese will be happy.
      When did childcare become infrastructure in your 91st or 92nd year because it was never that before then. I am speculating that you had pretty good health care in spite of the evil GOP to live to 92 but maybe you were on deaths door until the savior Barack Hussein Obama saved you with the Unaffordable Care Act.

  • Turning down awful exploitative jobs that don’t pay a living wage thanks to an unemployment benefit that can actually be survived on sounds significantly less miserable than being forced to work two or three such jobs because there’s no alternative. It’s also leading to the refreshing phenomenon of businesses raising pay and offering bonuses to attract employees.

  • You could have just noted that inflation has increased, because that accounts for the entirety of the changes under Biden. But I guess ‘misery index’ sounds more dramatic.

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