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Economy, Elections

Thirteen Presidents of Unemployment (1948–2018)

Description: Unemployment has risen and fallen multiple times in the last 70 years under 13 different presidents. Major rises in unemployment are related to the 11 recessions during this time. Even though nine of the last ten recessions have started in Republican administrations (Carter being the exception), unemployment during Democrat administrations is only 0.3% lower on average (5.6% vs. 5.9%, significant at 95% confidence). Generally this is because Republican presidents in this time period leave office with higher unemployment than when they started and Democrats leaver with lower, and the average is close to balancing out.

Top chart:

  • Blue and red areas illustrate the monthly unemployment rate (averaged over three months) for Democrat and Republican presidents.
  • Vertical grey areas indicate timing and length of recessions.

Bottom chart:

  • Colored blue and red areas indicate party of the president (aligned with top chart.
  • Grey/dark vertical areas represent recessions (aligned with top chart).
  • Grey line indicates six-month trend in unemployment for the current and previous five months. A value above zero indicates rising unemployment and below indicates falling unemployment.

Quick facts:

  • The highest monthly unemployment rate in this period was Reagan’s 10.8% (November and December 1982).
  • The lowest is Eisenhower’s 2.5% (May and June 1953).
  • The highest average over a presidency is Ford’s 7.8%, followed by Reagan’s 7.5% and Obama’s 7.4%.
  • The lowest average is 4.2% for Trump, Johnson, and Nixon (in ascending order). The lowest with at least one complete term is Eisenhower’s 4.9%.
  • A comparison of unemployment during the first six months of an administration to the last six months shows that Republican presidents increase unemployment by 49% and Democrats reduce unemployment by 27%.
  • The three best unemployment-reducing presidents—based on the 6-month comparison—are all Democrats: Obama (-47% change), Clinton (-43%), and Johnson (-37%).
  • The three “worst” unemployment-increasing presidents are all Republicans: Nixon (+153% change), Eisenhower (+135%), and Bush II (+54%).

Methods and data: Monthly unemployment data were sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics1. The data were compiled, analyzed, and visualized using Microsoft Excel2.


  1. https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000
  2. https://products.office.com/en-us/excel


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