- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

The White House, Republican candidates for Congress and the nation itself received excellent news on the jobs front Friday, as we move closer toward Tuesday’s crucial midterm elections that will determine which party controls both the House and the Senate.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.4 percent in October. That rate is lower than the average unemployment rate during the 1990s (5.8 percent), the 1980s (7.3 percent), the 1970s (6.2 percent), the 1960s (4.8 percent) and the 1950s (4.5 percent). On top of the 92,000 increase in nonfarm employment in October, the Labor Department also revised upward the employment gains for September (from 51,000 to 148,000) and August (from 188,000 to 230,000). Thus, payroll employment increased by 470,000 during the last quarter; by nearly 2 million during the past 12 months; and, including the pending 810,000 upward revision announced last month by the Labor Department, by 6.9 million since August 2003, when the economy began generating job growth.

Political scientists and pundits have dubbed the midterm elections during the second term of a presidency the “six-year itch” or the “sixth-year swoon.” The party occupying the White House has generally suffered major losses in both the House and the Senate. Since the end of World War II, according to a tally by Congressional Quarterly, there have been six second-term midterm elections during which the party occupying the White House has lost an average of 28 House seats and 5.5 Senate seats. To achieve majority control of the House and the Senate, Democrats must gain 15 seats in the House and six Senate seats on Tuesday. In 1950, when Harry Truman was president, Democrats lost 29 House seats and six Senate seats, according to CQ. In 1958, President Eisenhower’s sixth year, Republicans lost 47 House seats and 13 Senate seats. In 1966, the sixth year of the Kennedy-Johnson presidency, Democrats lost 47 House seats and three Senate seats. In 1974, the sixth year of the Nixon-Ford White House years, Republicans lost 43 House seats and three seats in the Senate. In 1986, President Reagan’s party lost five House seats and eight Senate seats. President Clinton bucked the “sixth-year-swoon” trend in 1998, as Democrats actually gained five House seats and suffered no losses in the Senate.

Clearly, numerous factors influence midterm elections, but two of the most important issues are summarized by the relative states of “peace and prosperity” at the time of voting. In November 1950, U.S. military forces were engaged in the Korean War, which China entered the month before. On Election Day 1966, the anti-Vietnam War movement was gaining strength. Today, U.S. forces are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan amid increasing tension at home.

On the prosperity front, analysts of America’s political economy at election time generally focus on economic growth over the previous year, the unemployment rate (both its level and its recent trend), the 12-month inflation rate and the rate of increase in real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) per capita disposable personal income. Only the 1974 election occurred during a recession. Here are the unemployment rates (percent) for October of the midterm election year and 12 months earlier: 1950 (4.2, 7.9), 1958 (6.7, 4.5), 1966 (3.7, 4.2), 1974 (6.0, 4.6), 1986 (7.0, 7.1), 1998 (4.5, 4.7) and 2006 (4.4, 4.9). Economic growth rates (gross domestic product) during the four quarters preceding the elections, the corresponding changes in real per capita disposable personal income and the 12-month inflation rates, respectively (and expressed in percents), were as follows: 1950 (10.3 GDP, 7.4 per capita income, 2.1 inflation rate), 1958 (-0.1, -0.5, 2.1), 1966 (6.0, 3.3, 3.5), 1974 (-0.1, -1.7, 11.9), 1986 (3.1, 2.8, 1.8), 1998 (3.7, 4.9, 1.5) and 2006 (2.9, 3.0, 2.1). The famous “misery index,” which adds the unemployment rate and the inflation rate, was: 1950 (6.3), 1958 (8.8), 1966 (7.2), 1974 (17.9), 1986 (8.8), 1998 (6.0) and 2006 (6.5). The misery-index average has been 8.8.

The news on the jobs front is good, really good. Now, we have to wait and see whether history will repeat itself — or not.

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