The comparison on the previous page is not perfect. Nonfarm payroll tracks only those jobs for which the worker receives a regular check from an employer. It does not track (obviously) farm jobs, nor does it track independent contractors or business owners (though it does track employees of small businesses). One could suggest (though implausibly) large movements in and out of farming and independent contracting between presidential terms. But we can get a different view of the same economic issue through the unemployment rate, (i.e., number of people actively looking for jobs). This figure does not include economically self-sufficient farmers or independent contractors. Again, the data is from www.bls.gov **
Each graph compares the quarterly unemployment rate of three presidents at a time to compare the trend under each of the presidents.
These graphs contain much more data and so are more challenging to interpret. However, following the trend from each president (unemployment rate prior to 1948 was unavailable which was why Truman’s was shorter) there was a relatively consistent trend toward increased unemployment under each Republican president throughout their tenure in office and decreased unemployment under each Democratic president. This can be summarized with the following table.
Unemployment Rate in
beginning of first term
Unemployment Rate at
End (and net change)
7.5 ( 0 )
( *Again unemployment rate only goes back to 1948 for Truman, however, since Truman continued Roosevelt's policies consider that the unemployment rate was estimated to be 20-25% in 1933)
This augments the nonfarm payroll picture, since it represents the fraction of the population actively seeking work (thus unable to find satisfactory work).
The only exceptions to this general trend were Reagan and Carter. Reagan, alone among Republican presidents, had a modest decrease in unemployment during his second term (which was subsequently eliminated by George H.W. Bush, who ended the first post-Reagan term with the same unemployment rate as Carter). Carter began and ended his term with the same unemployment rate of 7.5%. The Reagan/Bush terms also ended with the same unemployment rate as it began. Also, Reagan peaked at 10.9% at the end of his second year in office – the highest unemployment rate since World War II.
So to summarize the data since World War II, it seems clear that you’re more likely to be seeking a job while a Republican is in the Oval Office, and more likely to find one under a Democrat.