President Obama: “America is back!” Guess again: More than 40% of Americans aren’t working.

It seems like we are being bombarded with what sounds like great economic news every day: the Dow is poised to break 13K, the unemployment rate is dropping like a stone and the Democrats are giddy over the prospect of President Obama’s re-election.

Not so fast.   The economic pain Americans have been suffering has received a morphine injection in the form of modest growth and a rising stock market, but things remain nothing short of horrific – bad enough to place Obama’s re-election in jeopardy.

Is unemployment really dropping?  The unemployment rate remains at 8.3{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}.   With no incumbent president since FDR winning re-election with the rate over 8{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, this is a stubborn figure.    Having the rate drop only two-tenths of a percent since the start of the year seems like Democrats are left clutching for straws.

The unemployment rate as an election predictor has limits though.  This is especially the case when so many Americans have been unemployed for such a long period of time.   Since they are no longer looking for work, they are not being counted in the stats.

The employment/population ratio compiled by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (see may provide a better indicator of our economic health and its political impact.  This number is the percent of Americans 16 and older who are employed.

Right now, that number is 58.5{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}.   That’s right, fewer than six-in-ten Americans who are eligible to work are actually working.  More than four-in-ten are not.

Let’s put that into perspective.  This figure never broke 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} until the 80s, when the impact of large numbers of women joining the workforce became fully apparent.    Things are different now.

Obama’s current stat is worse than the 58.9{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} measured the October prior to Jimmy Carter losing to Ronald Reagan in 1980.   In fact, the workforce employment ratio hasn’t been in the 50s since July, 1985 – more than a quarter of a century ago.  That’s how bad joblessness remains.

Obama is far short of the 63.5{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} for Bill Clinton and 62.3{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} for Bush 43 measured the October prior to their re-elections.

Joblessness dropping?  Guess again.  While the unemployment rate has dropped, the actual percent of Americans who are actually working has not changed in three months.   Let me say that again, the percent of Americans actually working has not changed in three months.   It was 58.5{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} in November, December and January.  In fact, it has only bumped up two-tenths of one percent in the last year.

America is back?  We ask, back to what?

Public Opinion Strategies