Starting with the end of World War 1, what was the average unemployment rate for each United States President? Was the overall average different for Republican and Democratic presidents, and if so, by how much? The time frame can be fudged here because of available information.

  • This is possibly to broad. Perhaps it should be narrowed down to one President?
    – Luke_0
    Sep 14, 2012 at 17:38
  • 1
    There were only 16 presidents between 1917 and and 2012. Looking at the unemployment rate of only one president also doesn't really help answer the question of average unemployment rates for each party.
    – SocioMatt
    Sep 14, 2012 at 17:43
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    My largest problem with this is usually the party in power, during a bad economy, claims the President has little power to influence the economy while the party out of power claims the opposite.
    – MichaelF
    Sep 15, 2012 at 1:54
  • The question was related to the numbers, not the responses of each party. The claims of either party don't really have any bearing on reported numbers, so I fail to see how that is a concern with this question. T.E.D. made some very viable points as to the concerns of this question, which I agree with.
    – SocioMatt
    Sep 15, 2012 at 15:47
  • @SocioMatt - there's lies, big lies, and statistics. For examples, 2012 unemployment reporting was deliberately done wrong (comparing apples to oranges) by the media to make unemployment seem better than it is - see detailed analysis on Sinan Unur's Q Tau blog if interested.
    – DVK
    Oct 2, 2012 at 14:06

1 Answer 1


IMHO this is pretty much a general reference question. Links for it abound. So I'll instead use the balance of my answer to warn you about the data. Basically, comparing unemployment numbers over that many years has lot of issues.

First off, official BLS data only goes back to 1948. Any data you get from before that will be a bit like comparing apples to oranges just due to the fact that will have been collected differently with different standards for who counts as "unemployed".

Secondly, even within that data, the definition of "unemployed" is periodically changed. The BLS now has six differenent measures of the unemployment rate (U1 - U6). Usually they report U3, but there is a lot of discussion about whether some of the higher measures are closer to how it used to be calculated.

Thirdly, this isn't really the same country it was in the '50's. Women (half the population) are now in the workforce. We are older (less non-working kids per adult, more retirees), we have many more people on things like disability, our prison population has ballooned, etc. This is why we have the 6 different measures now.

Finally, you can cherry-pick your data just by picking when you count. For instance, a lot of Democrats like to compare from WWII through the Bush Administration. That's because the presidencies immeditely before and after that period happen to have been Democrats presiding during unusually bad recessions. (They might argue both recessions started during Republician administrations, but that's beside my point). For the same reason, Republicans would like to pick a period that includes both the Great Depression and the current recession. However, they would probably not want you to go back as far as WWI, as there were no less than 2 recessions during Republican presidencies between the World Wars. Go back to 1900, and they have several more. (Of course they could likewise argue that the post-WWI recessions started under Democrat Woodrow Wilson's watch.)

Some folks will even try to snow you by quoting U3 for other presidents, then switching to the higher U6 (usually with words like "real unemployment") for a particular president they don't like. As they say, statistics don't lie, but liars use statistics.

  • 2
    +1. The president, compared to Congress or the Federal Reserve, has little control over the economy. Moreover, unemployment is a trailing indicator of economic health, and in a vast economy such as the U.S., it takes months for any government action to show effects. The question in 2012 is whether we are in 1984 or 1992. In 1984, unemployment was actually higher than when Reagan took office, but he got the credit for improving conditions. In 1992, the economy was growing again, but not fast enough to reelect George HW Bush; his successor got the credit for the recovery.
    – choster
    Sep 14, 2012 at 23:58
  • +1. As a further point in line with your analysis, the recessions frequently aren't correctly timed by politicians: for example, the 1990s recession that caused Bush the elder to lose his re-election bid is now accepted by economists to have fully ended under Bush, while Clinton benefitted from the upswing that he himself did nothing to bring about. And the seeds of 2007+ economic downturn can be blamed on pretty much anyone and everyone you want, since both parties happily supported Alan "bubbly" Greenspan's policies while they worked;and neither was interested in deflating RE bubble in time.
    – DVK
    Oct 2, 2012 at 14:01
  • @DVK - Mostly agree with that comment. However, you should realize that economists like to define recessions by economic growth, not unemployment stats. Employment tends to lag growth, but its a number that's perhaps more relevant to most voters. For example, technically our last recesssion ended three years ago, but unemployment (U3) is still over 8%, so the economy is still an issue.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 3, 2012 at 12:45
  • @JoeHobbit - Ack. The "like" was a typo. I've fixed it now, so you may want to rescind your upvote. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 4, 2012 at 14:39
  • "snow you" alone merited my up-vote! I wouldn't mind if that became cliche.
    – Dale
    Oct 7, 2012 at 18:49

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