Lesson for Obama: History Not Kind to Presidents with High Unemployment Rates

VIDEO: Gary Locke: Above 9 Percent Unemployment Unacceptable
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President Obama may have gotten some bad news last week about his re-election prospects when the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the nation's unemployment rate will be 8.2 percent come Election Day 2012.

The only president ever to win re-election with a jobless rate that high was FDR during the Great Depression. In 1932 the jobless rate was 23.6 percent, in 1936 it was 16.9 percent, and in 1940 14.6 percent.

In fact, those years are the only ones in history when the nation's unemployment rate has been that high during an election.

More recent history does not bode well for Obama.

In 1992, incumbent George Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton with the unemployment rate at 7.4 percent. In 1980, incumbent Jimmy Carter was sent packing by voters who opted for Ronald Reagan at a time when the jobless rate was 7.5 percent. And in 1976 incumbent Gerald Ford was ousted by Carter with the jobless rate at 7.8 percent.

Another worrisome sign for the administration is that if the unemployment rate is 8.2 percent in November 2012, that would be an increase from what it was when he took office -- 7.7 percent.

While the White House has consistently said that their economic policies succeeded in preventing a repeat of the Great Depression, the "it could have been worse" argument might not resonate with voters.

Asked by ABC News' Sunlen Miller if the president was concerned about this, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president is focused on the jobs situation today, not 22 months from now.

"I can assure you that the president is not focused today on what the unemployment rate will be in the fourth quarter of 2012. He's focused on what the unemployment rate is in the first quarter of 2011," Gibbs said Thursday. "And I think that's what animated his decisions in the tax agreement in December, again, a payroll tax cut which analysts have said will increase economic growth and job creation, tax incentives... that allow companies to accelerate the expensing of investments, which we and others believe will help businesses expand and we hope hire more people.

"So I don't think people here are flipping through to the fourth quarter. We're focused on today and tomorrow."

On a positive note, the jobs market has been picking up in recent months, giving the administration some cause for optimism.

In December the nation's employers added 103,000 jobs to their payrolls, making it the 12th straight month of growth. In all, 2010 saw an average of 94,000 new jobs created every month.

In addition, December saw a massive drop in the country's unemployment rate from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent, the biggest one-month plunge since April 1998.

The same day of the CBO's sobering estimate, the government announced that the number of people filing for jobless benefits had fallen more than expected over the past week and the Federal Reserve touted that the country's "economic recovery is continuing."

And in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll , the president matched his highest job approval rating in over a year, boosted by his response to the Tucson shootings, a surprisingly productive lame-duck session, and some slight economic relief.

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