The unemployment rate in the U.S. has ebbed and flowed throughout the years, with its greatest rise symbolizing the depths of the Great Depression. Since the peak of 25% in 1933 and the role that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal played in lowering the number of jobless Americans, the presidents in office have been associated with the unemployment rate during their term(s). While numerous factors, such as wars and economic cycles, contribute to unemployment rates, we thought it prudent to analyze the impact of presidencies. The resulting gif is an intriguing snapshot of how unemployment changed under the watch of six different presidents, from former President Jimmy Carter to President Obama.
Starting with Jimmy Carter’s presidency in 1978 and going through Barack Obama’s term as of April 2014, we created over 400 maps outlining the monthly unemployment rate of each state as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (with seasonal adjustments). It’s important to note that the methods the BLS uses for calculating the unemployment rate have changed/improved throughout the years, which could have an impact on the reported rates.
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
The average unemployment rate decreased during the first half of Carter’s four-year term; however, the latter years of his presidency were marked by inflation and soaring interest rates, which caused the number of jobless Americans to climb as well. The Iranian hostage situation occurring during the last 14 months of his administration contributed to his defeat during the 1980 election.
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
While the average unemployment rate skyrocketed to 9.7% in 1982, the number fell every year during the remainder of Reagan’s administration. The former actor is recognized for the tax cuts and lowering of government expenditures he implemented during his two terms. His overhaul of the income tax code in 1986 helped maintain the country’s prosperity.
George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)
During his one-term presidency, the average unemployment rate increased each year. Many international events occurred during his administration, including the ending of the Cold War, dissolution of the Soviet Union, and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Despite Americans’ approval of Bush’s military triumph with Desert Storm, he lost his re-election campaign.
Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
The average unemployment rate decreased each year of Clinton’s presidency, with it bottoming out at a low of 4% in 2000 before increasing to 4.7% in 2001. In 1993, he signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a controversial agreement that opponents say hurts employment in the U.S. and proponents say helps to create more jobs in America.
George W. Bush (2001-2009)
Throughout Bush’s eight years in office, the average unemployment rate teetered between 4.7% and 6%. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, and the invasion of Iraq transformed him into a wartime president. The Great Recession of 2007-2009 pushed the unemployment rate from 5.8% in 2008 to 9.3% in 2009.
Barack Obama (2009- )
At the end of Obama’s second year in office, the average unemployment rate reached a high of 9.6% (2010) and since has slowly decreased to 6.3% in April 2014. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his push for health care reform resulting in the much-debated Affordable Care Act being signed into law in 2010, are markers of his two terms in office.