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How Can Spending Be Up When People Feel Down?

Updated Dec. 27, 2023 12:00 am ET

According to the Misery Index, Americans shouldn’t be all that miserable. But they might only recently have started to catch on.

Invented by the economist Arthur Okun, the Misery Index is the simple summing of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. It first rose to prominence in the 1976 presidential election, when Jimmy Carter highlighted its high level in his campaign to unseat President Gerald Ford. This came back to bite him: When President Carter was running for re-election against Ronald Reagan in 1980, the index was even higher.

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