No one should get euphoric about the latest unemployment rate snapshot of 8.6 percent despite the drop, because it’s still too high and there are all kinds of stipulations and cautionary notes that come with it. Still, as this chart, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, (created by Matt McDonald at Hamilton Place Strategies and posted by WaPo’s Chris Cillizza) indicates, the unemployment trend line has improved significantly overall during the last year.
With unemployment figures, the trend is more important than a snapshot. As Cillizza wrote back in April,
Economists spend their lives poring over numbers that provide detailed information about how and whether the economy is growing. Average people, on the other hand, tend to look at a single number to assess the economy’s relative health: the unemployment rate.
And, it’s not even the exact number that most people fixate on. It’s the trend line. Are things getting marginally better, marginally worse or staying about the same?
That trend line is the single most telling image of how the American public feels — and how they are likely to vote on — the economy heading into the 2012 election….But, a downward trend line on the unemployment rate — if not a drastic reduction in the actual number — will allow the President to make the case that the economic policies he put into place over his first term in office are working and, therefore, he needs a second term to make things even better.
One need only to look as far as Ronald Reagan for evidence of the power of the economic trend line…In March 1983, the unemployment rate stood at 10.3 percent. It steadily declined over the intervening 20 months and in October 1984 it stood at 7.3 percent….While a 7.3 percent unemployment rate was no one’s economic dream scenario, the movement was in Reagan’s direction. And voters reacted accordingly — handing him a 49-state re-election victory over Walter Mondale.
There’s something about simple charts like the one above that can convey a sense of optimism when words describing the same thing fail to do the job. With a little luck, President Obama will have an impressive chart to show the public next October. It’s still early for high-fives, but Dems can be hopeful.