Recent employment data has Republicans crowing and Democrats griping. The  GOP says that the dramatic drop in the unemployment rate justifies Republican economic policies. Democrats claim that much of the decline is due to people leaving the workforce.

The lower unemployment rate is certainly good news for the GOP. It’s an easy measure for people to digest and it works well in ads. They can legitimately claim that the unemployment rate dropped under their watch.

Democrats have a point, too. The workforce is shrinking, discouraged unemployed folks are no longer seeking jobs and cuts to unemployment benefits could leave families hurting. The argument, though, is harder to understand and doesn’t fit well into a 30 second ad. Besides, in 2014, voters will likely be looking for good news, not bad.

However, the statistics will matter less than how people are feeling as the off year election approaches. If people feel like their circumstances are improving, then the low unemployment rate is evidence that the whole state is getting better. On the other hand, if people are feeling like they are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession, all of the good looking statistics won’t convince them that the state is on the right track.

The Civitas poll last week showed a depressed electorate. Almost 60% of the people think the state is still in recession and more think we’re on the wrong track than the right track. Those numbers will have to change before people feel good about the unemployment rate. There’s plenty of time for that to happen, though.

Who knows whether Republican policies improved the unemployment rate or caused the drop in the workforce. Regardless, they will get the credit and the blame. It’s the benefit and curse of incumbency.

However, statistics are less important in judging the success of policies than their impact on people’s lives. Over the next year, we should focus on factors like medium income, infant mortality, graduation rates and home ownership. Low unemployment is less important if people feel that their personal situation is not improving.

Graphic curtesy of the The Carolina Mercury.


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