The Reagan Question: Are You Better Off Now Than You Were Eight Years Ago?

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September 2008, John Schmitt and Hye Jin Rho

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In his closing remarks during the final presidential debate of 1980, Ronald Reagan famously asked the American people: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

The table below updates Reagan's question by comparing the state of the economy in 2000 and 2008. We use 25 indicators of economic well-being and economic performance and find that 23 of the 25 indicators are worse in 2008 than they were in 2000.  Click here for a list of the sources used.

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Economic Indicator
2000 2008
Unemployment rate Image4.0% 6.1%
Inflation rate Image3.3% 5.4%
Job Growth (preceding 8 years)
Total nonfarm employment Image21.4% 4.3%
Private sector employment Image23.6% 3.6%
Manufacturing employment
Image2.9% -22.2%
Employment rate (% of population)
All, age 16 and older
Image64.4% 62.6%
Men, age 16 and older
Image71.9% 69.1%
Women, age 16 and older
Image57.5% 56.5%
Real wage growth (preceding 8 years)
Image8.2% 1.8%
Minimum wage (July 2008$) Image$6.58 $6.55
Family income
Median, 2007$ $61,083 Image$61,355
Growth (preceding 8 years)
Image14.7% 0.4%
Poverty
Rate (% of population)
Image11.3% 12.5%
People in poverty (millions)
Image31.6 37.3
Uninsured (health insurance)
Rate (% of population)
Image14.0% 15.3%
People without insurance  (millions) Image38.7 45.7
Personal savings (% of disposable income) Image2.3% 0.6%
College tuition (average per year, 2007$)
Private four-year college Image$19,337 $23,712
Public four-year college
Image$4,221 $6,185
Gasoline (gallon, 2008$) Image$2.03 $4.09
GDP growth (preceding 8 years) Image34.2% 19.6%
Productivity growth (preceding 8 years) 15.9% Image21.9%
Trade balance (% of GDP) Image-3.9% -5.1%
Federal debt (% of GDP) Image57.3% 65.5%
Net foreign debt (% of GDP) Image13.6% 17.9%