To help campaign workers in Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign to keep their eye on the ball, to stay focused on the public’s top concern, Clinton campaign manager James Carville coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Carville was right. As is precisely the case today, the centrality of economic issues was paramount in 1992.
Under incumbent Republican President George H. W. Bush, the U.S. unemployment rate had increased from 5.6 percent in 1990 to 6.8 percent in 1991 and 7.5 percent in 1992.
Failing on another key economic issue, Bush had reneged on his well-known 1988 campaign pledge to refrain from raising taxes.
Further adding to the primacy of economic issues in the 1992 presidential election, third party candidate Ross Perot focused his campaign on federal budget deficits, the U.S. trade imbalance, and the national debt.
Today, it’s still “the economy, stupid” with the federal debt now at $17 trillion, up from $4 trillion in 1992, and the economy stuck in a record-breaking slow recovery with an official unemployment rate of 7.6 percent in May, up from 7.5 percent in April.
Moreover, the 7.6 percent jobless rate doesn’t include the roughly 800,000 unemployed people officially labeled as “discouraged workers,” or the million-plus jobless workers classified as “marginally attached” to the labor force, or the 8 million partially jobless workers who are working only part-time but looking for full-time employment.
Add these “discouraged workers,” the “involuntary part-timers,” and the “marginally attached” to the official unemployment rate and the true unemployment rate in the U.S. is currently between 14 percent and 15 percent of the labor force — one in seven workers.
Not surprisingly, “huge majorities” of the public ranked “jobs and the economy” as their highest policy priorities in a Pew Research Survey in January 2013, as President Obama was beginning his second term, reports the New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat.
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