According to Sen. John F. Kerry's new middle-class misery index, Americans are certifiably miserable after three years under President Bush. The best part is: Kerry's advisers had to cook up a new index in order to make Americans miserable.
What's wrong with the old "misery index," made famous when Jimmy Carter used it so effectively to oust President Gerald Ford? That statistic added inflation to the unemployment rate, so it is too positive to use against Bush. The index was 13.5 in 1976. Exit Ford. Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, it is a very low 7.7. Exit Kerry.
Tom Campbell, dean of University of California-Berkeley's Haas School of Business, noted that 7.7 looks darn good when you consider that in 1996 "President Clinton was re-elected with a misery index of 8.4." Americans may have become inured to low unemployment, so that today's 5.7 percent rate doesn't impress voters as it used to. When Ronald Reagan ran for re-election, Campbell observed, "It was morning in America, and in 1984, unemployment was 7.5 percent."
Kerry's index includes seven items: median family income, public college tuition, health costs, gasoline prices, bankruptcies, home-ownership rate and private-sector job growth. Economist Robert Reich, now a visiting professor at UC Berkeley, didn't write Kerry's version of "Les Miserables" but is said to be the author of Kerry's compelling health-care plan. Reich defended the new index, noting that "economists have been tinkering with the idea for many years."
According to Reich, a true jobs recovery is still far away. The low unemployment rate doesn't gauge the quality of jobs. The growing federal deficit is problematic. Health-care costs are up and going higher. College tuition has risen dramatically. And: "Most Americans don't need the misery index to know how much worse off they are than they were four years ago."
OK, but if voters don't need a number to know they're miserable, why make one up? I'll add: Not long ago, the Clinton administration was crowing, with reason, about low unemployment, and it wasn't handwringing over the quality of jobs. Reich is correct that the federal deficit is problematic, but it's not included in the Kerry "miz" index. Health-care costs are up, true, but that's because people are getting better care.