In recent years the economy has seen slow-but-steady improvement from the depths of the Great Recession. While policymakers and public officials are quick to claim credit for economic improvements, the truth is that month-to-month changes in economic indicators are largely the continuation of long-running trends. EPI’s Autopilot Economy Tracker provides a set of real-time benchmarks to help Americans gauge how well our leaders are performing as stewards of the U.S. economy. This benchmarking consists of a set of charts that show changes in key economic indicators—including the unemployment rate, labor force participation rate, wage growth, and total employment, updated this month with additional demographic data—relative to how they would have changed had the economy simply been “on autopilot.”
“When the jobs report comes out tomorrow, policymakers will no doubt try to claim credit if the news is positive and cast blame if the news is underwhelming,” said EPI Senior Economist Elise Gould. “But we should only give policymakers credit—or blame—if economic indicators deviate significantly from the course we’re currently on.”
In each chart in the Autopilot Economy Tracker, the trajectory of very recent past trends is used as a baseline, against which to judge performance at any point in time. If the indicator measured is measurably above or below the baseline, policy decisions likely had an effect and policymakers can claim credit—or shoulder blame.
“Our hope is that this tool helps people make fair and informed evaluations of economic policymakers’ decisions. For example, the unemployment rate has been slowly ticking down and if left on autopilot it would continue its downward trajectory,” said Gould. “If unemployment doesn’t keep declining, even at a slow pace as the labor force participation rate increases, this should be seen as a policy mistake. Conversely President Trump, Congress, and the Fed only deserve kudos if we see a noticeable pickup in labor market performance relative to pre-existing trends.”