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Misery Index Definition

What Is the Misery Index ?

The misery index is meant to measure the academic degree of economic distress felt by casual people, due to the hazard of ( or actual ) joblessness combined with an increasing cost of know. The misery index is calculated by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate .

Since unemployment and ostentation are both considered damaging to one ‘s economic wellbeing, their combined value is utilitarian as an index of overall economic health. The original misery index was popularized in the 1970s with the development of stagflation, or simultaneously high inflation and unemployment.

Key Takeaways

  • The first misery index was created by Arthur Okun and was equal to the sum of inflation and unemployment rate figures to provide a snapshot of the U.S. economy.
  • The higher the index, the greater the misery felt by average citizens.
  • It has broadened in recent times to include other economic indicators, such as bank lending rates.
  • The misery index is considered a convenient but imprecise metric. There are several circumstances where it may not be accurately representative of economic distress.
  • In recent times, variations of the original misery index have become popular as a means to gauge the overall health of a national economy.


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Understanding the Misery Index

The misery exponent has two components : inflation and unemployment. inflation refers to the rate at which money loses buying power, ascribable to the rise of consumer prices. unemployment, as measured in the U.S., is the number of able adults who are actively looking for bring, as a divide of the total work force. In most cases, these numbers are inversely correlated : when more people are employed, prices tend to rise, and vice versa .

Economists broadly consider “ full moon use “ to mean an unemployment rate of 4 % –5 %, and the Federal Reserve ( Fed ) targets an inflation rate of 2 %. Therefore, a satisfactory misery index rat would be in the range of 6 % –7 % .

history of the Misery Index

The first misery index was created by economist Arthur Okun, using the childlike kernel of the nation ’ s annual ostentation and unemployment rates to provide an well silent snapshot of the economy ’ s relative health. The higher the index, the greater the misery feel by the average citizen .

During the 1970s, after President Nixon restricted and then severed the final links between the U.S. dollar and gold, the U.S. experienced respective years of simultaneously elevated price ostentation and unemployment, known as stagflation. The american people were caught in a extort between the hardships of joblessness as the economy hit a series of recessions and a rising monetary value of living as the dollar quickly lost prize .

This phenomenon did not fit with dominant macroeconomic theories at the time, based on the Phillips curvature, which led economists to explore alternative ideas to describe and explain what was going on, including Okun ‘s misery index. At the prison term the misery index was novel because mainstream economists had previously believed that inflation and unemployment would tend to offset one another and should not both rise at the same time .

During the 1976 campaign for U.S. president, candidate Jimmy Carter popularized Okun ’ s misery index as a mean of criticizing his opposition, incumbent Gerald Ford. By the end of Ford ’ south administration, the misery index was a relatively gamey 12.7 %, creating a tempt target for Carter. During the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan in turn pointed out that the misery index had increased under Carter .

Limitations of the Misery Index

While it is a commodious shorthand for economic misfortune, there are several reasons why the misery index should not be considered a precise metric for economic health .

For one thing, both components of the misery index have inherent subterfuge spots. The unemployment rate alone counts the unemployed who are actively looking for influence ; it does include those who have given up looking for work, as might be the case for long-run stretches of unemployment .

alike, gloomy inflation can besides be accompanied by unexpected misery. No inflation, or evening deflation, can be signs of a stagnant economy, but would produce a very low misery index .

In summation, the misery exponent treats unemployment and inflation equally. however, a 1 % increase in unemployment likely causes more misery than a 1 % increase in inflation would .


The Okun misery index is considered a convenient but highly imprecise metric, due to the built-in blindspots of both inflation and unemployment as measurements of economic health.

Criticisms of the Misery Index

The Okun misery index has faced some criticism from economists. Some believe it is not a good indicator of economic performance because it does n’t include economic growth data. This mistakes the purpose of the misery index for a measure of general economic operation rather than as a measuring stick of the pain feel by the average citizen. careless, it is bright for investors to build an emergency investment company in case of an economic downturn or job personnel casualty .

As a bill of personal economic distress, the misery index may underweight the character of expectations and doubt by looking only at current unemployment and inflation rates—when much of the tension and worry that people actually feel is for their future economic prospects ( in addition to current conditions ). In particular, the unemployment rate is by and large considered to be a lag indicator that likely understates perceived misery early in a recession and overstates it even after the recession is over .

During the Great Moderation, the prevalence of moo unemployment and humble inflation figures across much of the populace besides meant that the misery index was rarely use except during brief recessions and crises from prison term to time. Bad newsworthiness sells, so periods of simultaneously low ostentation and unemployment merely do n’t generate the lapp impulse to measure and track economic misery .

There have been several attempts to modernize the misery index by including other metrics.

Newer Versions of the Misery Index

The misery index has been modified several times, first by Harvard economist Robert Barro. In 1999, Barro created the Barro misery index, which adds in consumer lend interest rates and the col between actual and electric potential gross domestic merchandise ( GDP ) growth to evaluate post-WWII presidents .

In 2011, Johns Hopkins economist Steve Hanke modified Barro ‘s misery exponent and broadened its lotion to be a cross-country index. Hanke ‘s annual misery index is the summarize of unemployment, ostentation, and bank lend rates, minus the change in real number GDP per caput .

Hanke publishes his global list of misery index rankings per annum for the countries that report relevant data on a seasonably basis. In 2020, his list included 156 nations, with Guyana being identified as the world ’ second happiest area and Venezuela as the earth ‘s most miserable country .

The concept of a misery index has besides been expanded to asset classes. For exercise, Tom Lee, co-founder of Fundstrat Advisors, created the Bitcoin Misery Index ( BMI ) to measure the average bitcoin investor ‘s misery. The index calculates the share of winning trades against entire trades and adds it to the cryptocurrency ‘s overall excitability. The index is considered “ at misery ” when its total value is less than 27 .

A variation of the original misery index is the Bloomberg misery index. Argentina, South Africa, and Venezuela, countries beset by far-flung ostentation and unemployment, topped the index in 2020 .

On the other end, Thailand, Singapore, and Japan were considered the happy countries according to economist estimates. But broken inflation and low unemployment rates can besides mask low demand, as the publication itself pointed out. Japan is a textbook case of persistently low demand due to an economy that has been in stagflation for the last two decades .

Misery Index Under Different Presidents

Although the misery index was first popularized in the 1970s, it is possible to evaluate the economic misfortunes under unlike presidents by comparing their inflation and unemployment figures. Unsurprisingly, the most abject year on record was during the Great Depression ; the misery index reached 25.7 % in the first gear year of Franklin Roosevelt ‘s presidency. The index fell to 3.5 % by 1944, likely due to the full moon employment during the second World War .

Richard Nixon ( 1969–1974 ) and Jimmy Carter ( 1977–1981 ) have the awkward distinction of presiding over the most hapless economies of the post-war menstruation, with the misery index reaching 20 % under Nixon and 22 % under Carter. Misery fell sharply under Ronald Reagan, and continued to course downwards during the Bush and Clinton presidencies .

During the presidency of George W. Bush, the misery exponent again trended upwards, reaching a bill of 12.7 % under President Obama due to the ongoing Great Recession. The index fell to a low of 5.06 % by 2015 and remained low through most of the Trump presidency ( 2016–2020 ). however, the COVID-19 Pandemic caused a abrupt increase in unemployment, causing the misery index to reach 15 % .

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