Thursday's annual Census Bureau report on income, poverty and access to health care-the Bureau's principal report card on the well-being of average Americans-closes the books on the economic record of George W. Bush.
It's not a record many Republicans are likely to point to with pride.
On every major measurement, the Census Bureau report shows that the country lost ground during Bush's two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country's condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton's two terms, often substantially.
The Census' final report card on Bush's record presents an intriguing backdrop to today's economic debate. Bush built his economic strategy around tax cuts, passing large reductions both in 2001 and 2003. Congressional Republicans are insisting that a similar agenda focused on tax cuts offers better prospects of reviving the economy than President Obama's combination of some tax cuts with heavy government spending. But the bleak economic results from Bush's two terms, tarnish, to put it mildly, the idea that tax cuts represent an economic silver bullet.
Economists would cite many reasons why presidential terms are an imperfect frame for tracking economic trends. The business cycle doesn't always follow the electoral cycle. A president's economic record is heavily influenced by factors out of his control. Timing matters and so does good fortune.
But few would argue that national economic policy is irrelevant to economic outcomes. And rightly or wrongly, voters still judge presidents and their parties largely by the economy's performance during their watch. In that assessment, few measures do more than the Census data to answer the threshold question of whether a president left the day to day economic conditions of average Americans better than he found it.
If that's the test, today's report shows that Bush flunked on every relevant dimension-and not just because of the severe downturn that began last year.