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We're halfway through 2013. How are things going?
Assessing the state of our union through statistics
 
He turns 53 today.
He turns 53 today. CC BY: The White House

It's always funny how both the left and right see the same things so differently. On Twitter, I often illustrate these stark differences by using the old "Monster Mad Libs" game. Example:

"As a (Democrat/Republican), it's clear that things are getting (better/worse). President Obama deserves all the (credit/blame). It's certainly an (improvement/freefall) from where things were when Bush was president. I can't believe how (stupid) these (Republicans/Democrats) are."

With that in mind: I've compiled some data comparing where we were on January 1 and where we are now. No doubt you'll think the following is (good/bad) and shows (progress/trouble).

OBAMA APPROVAL RATING:

January 1: 53.4 percent

June 30: 45.8 percent

(RealClearPolitics average)

Obama had stood up pretty well this year until about a month ago, when the accumulated weight of the IRS, Benghazi, and surveillance (stories/scandals) dragged him down; CNN showed him falling eight points in June — it was a bad month. But those issues now appear to be fading a bit; we'll see whether Obama's numbers rebound. If they do, I suspect any gains will be modest.

CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL RATING:

January 1: 18.0 percent

June 30: 14.4 percent

(RealClearPolitics average)

Even though job approval for Congress remains in the family and friends category, we keep electing most of the individual members. This is because we tend to like our own congressperson or senator — it's all those other bozos in other districts and states that are the problem. The way House districts are drawn up, lawmakers have every incentive to focus like a laser beam on the narrow interests of their constituents. That's why the vast majority of them will be re-elected in 2014.

ECONOMIC GROWTH:

Q4 2012: +0.4 percent

Q1 2013: +1.8 percent

(Bureau of Economic Analysis)

The administration makes no bones about the fact that it's disappointed with the economy's slow rate of growth. It blames Republicans (who blame the administration), it blames Europe's recession, it blames China's slowing economy. There's a kernel of truth to all of this, but lack of aggregate demand from American consumers — who make up about two-thirds of economic activity — is also a major reason. Job security, insufficient retirement savings, debt — data shows Americans are saving more and paying down debt. This is good for them and the economy over the long run. But saving more and paying down debt means less eating out and fewer vacations — hurting the economy over the short term.

MEDIAN HOME PRICES:

November: $180,000

Now: $208,000

(National Association of Realtors)



The 15 percent gain in median home prices is demonstrable evidence that the housing recovery is underway. Here's some context though: Prices are only back to January 2004 levels according to Census Bureau figures. It's a reminder of just how massive the housing collapse — which began in 2006 — was.

NATIONAL DEBT:

January: $16.4 trillion

Now: $16.7 trillion

(U.S. Treasury)

A fall showdown between the White House and Republicans is looming over the debt. Yes, another one. Get ready for more talk about how the sky is falling, and how there could be a debt default or government shutdown. That's just for the folks back home. Lawmakers will cut a last-minute deal, as they always do, to escape disaster. It's no way to run a government, butwe keep electing these guys, so we have no right to complain, do we?

FEDERAL DEFICIT:

Fiscal year 2012: $1.1 trillion

Estimate for fiscal year 2013 (ends Sept. 30): $642 billion

(Congressional Budget Office)

If the media's in bed with Obama like the right always claims, then why hasn't this bright data point gotten more attention? A 42 percent drop in the deficit in one year? Republicans can say, factually, that tax revenues are up because tax rates are higher — but Democrats can say that the improving economy is also filling federal coffers. Also helping slash the deficit, by the way: the sequester, which is cutting spending $85 billion through Sept. 30. Unless Washington's feckless politicians can figure a way out, the sequester will cut another $1.1 trillion between now and 2021.

UNEMPLOYMENT RATE:

December: 7.8 percent

May: 7.6 percent

(Bureau of Labor)

Here's another data point to be argued over. Republicans say the jobless rate has barely budged under Obama. Given that the jobless rate was 7.8 percent when he took office in January 2009, that's statistically true, though Democrats can say that the jobless rate has actually come down sharply from the 10.0 percent peak reached in October 2009 — and that the momentum caused the economic collapse of 2008 took it to that level to begin with. Depends on how you look at it, but both can argue over this 'til they're blue in the face.

U.S. TROOP DEATHS IN AFGHANISTAN:

72 so far this year. On pace for a 50 percent drop from 2012's 310 and 70 percent drop from peak year of 2010 (499)

(iCasualties)

No surprise that U.S. casualties are down sharply. The U.S. and its coalition allies are handing over operational control to the Afghan government, and American forces are gradually being withdrawn. This stems from a 2010 agreement between the allies and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and so far everything's on schedule. But some 9,000 Americans may remain in Afghanistan for years — perhaps 2024 — in an "advisory" role.

 
Paul Brandus is an award-winning member of the White House press corps and the founder of WestWingReports.com.

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