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Misery Index


The Misery Index is an economic indicator, calculated by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate. It was developed by economist Arthur Okun and is used to measure the overall health of an economy, with a higher index suggesting more economic hardship or “misery”. The premise is that a higher rate of either factor will produce economic and social costs for a country.


The phonetics for the keyword “Misery Index” is: /mɪzəri ɪndɛks/

Key Takeaways

  1. The Misery Index is an economic metric that adds unemployment and inflation rates to quantify the hardships faced by the economy and how it will impact ordinary citizens.
  2. Created by economist Arthur Okun, it is used by economists to provide a more comprehensive measure of economic health and to predict dissatisfaction among the population, potentially leading to political changes.
  3. Although it provides valuable insights, the Misery Index has limitations in capturing the full picture of an economy’s well-being as it doesn’t account for GDP growth, income distribution, job quality, and other significant economic indicators.


The Misery Index is an economic indicator, created by economist Arthur Okun, and it is important because it provides a quick and simplified measurement of the health of a country’s economy. The index is calculated by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate, with a higher score indicating a poorly performing economy and a lower score suggesting a healthier economic condition. By quantifying economic misery, it allows policymakers, economists, and industry analysts to assess the overall economic well-being of a country, form projections, and develop strategies to combat economic hardships. Hence, it is a valuable tool for understanding economic challenges and planning economic recovery initiatives.


The Misery Index primarily serves as an economic indicator, utilised to comprehend current and future economic contexts. The purpose is to provide a clear, easily understandable measure of the economic wellbeing of a country at a given point in time. Originally developed by Arthur Okun, an economist during President Johnson’s administration, the index primarily links the elements of unemployment and inflation. By measuring the cumulative discomfort created by high rates of these two elements, officials can obtain a nuanced understanding of the economic hardships faced by the common person.In other words, the Misery Index is utilised to guide economic policies by providing a quantified measure of societal ‘misery.’ If the index is high, the interpretation is that people are facing significant economic hardship due to unemployment and inflation. In managing the economy, policymakers employ this tool to understand the impact of their approaches on the masses, illuminating where remedies are required. Therefore, the Misery Index acts as a critical instrument allowing for the assessment of economic strategies. It can also help policymakers and analysts assess the probable political implications of economic conditions, as higher levels of ‘misery’ are typically associated with the people’s dissatisfaction towards the government.


The Misery Index is a combination of unemployment rate and inflation rate, which economists use to gauge the overall health of an economy. Here are three real world examples:1. Argentina (2021): As per a report from Statista, Argentina had the highest Misery Index score in the world in 2021, with a score above 45. Their high inflation and unemployment rates led to this high Misery Index.2. Zimbabwe (2008): This is one of the most extreme examples in history. Plagued by hyperinflation, reaching an astronomical 89.7 sextillion percent per month, along with high unemployment rates, Zimbabwe’s Misery Index was incredibly high. This situation was largely due to extreme economic mismanagement.3. USA during the Stagflation Period, (1970s): The Misery Index in the USA reached its highest point in 1980 at 21.98 under President Jimmy Carter. It was a time of economic stagnation (low growth and high unemployment) combined with high inflation rates, an unusual combination called “stagflation”.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the Misery Index?

The Misery Index is a tool used in economics which combines unemployment and inflation rates to provide a rough measure of economic wellbeing. It was developed by economist Arthur Okun.

How is the Misery Index calculated?

The Misery Index is calculated by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate. For example, if the unemployment rate is 5% and the inflation rate is 4%, the Misery Index would be 9%.

What does a high Misery Index indicate?

A high Misery Index indicates that the economic condition is poor. This could be due to a high rate of unemployment, inflation, or both.

Is a lower Misery Index level better than a higher one?

Yes, a lower level on the Misery Index indicates a healthier economy with lower unemployment and inflation rates, which are ideal conditions for economic growth and stability.

Who uses the Misery Index?

The Misery Index is used by economists, policymakers, investors, and analysts to better understand the health of an economy and make decisions accordingly.

Is the Misery Index used globally or just in specific countries?

While it was initially developed for use in the US, the Misery Index can theoretically be applied to any country for which relevant unemployment and inflation data are available.

Does the Misery Index reflect the overall health of an economy?

While the Misery Index can give a good indication of the overall economic health, it does not account for every aspect. Other factors, such as GDP growth rate and income inequality, can also impact an economy’s performance.

Can the Misery Index predict future economic performance?

The Misery Index is generally used as a snapshot of current economic conditions rather than a prediction tool for future performance. However, long-term trends in the Misery Index can offer some insights about the direction an economy is likely to head.

Related Finance Terms

  • Inflation Rate: This is one of the two components of the Misery Index. It hands a measure of how quickly general-level prices for goods and services are increasing over a period of time in an economy.
  • Unemployment Rate: The Misery Index also incorporates this, which calculates the percentage of the total labour force that is jobless and diligently seeking employment.
  • Okun’s Law: This macroeconomic relationship posits an inverse link between the unemployment rate and real GDP growth. A key theory often explored in conjunction with studies regarding the Misery Index.
  • Economic Stability: This is the goal that societies aim to achieve by maintaining low Misery Index scores. It refers to a state wherein an economy demonstrates low unemployment and stable inflation rates.
  • Stagflation: A situation in which an economy experiences high inflation and high unemployment rates, often leading to a high misery index. It is usually a sign of a struggling economy.

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