The misery index — which is simply the sum of the country’s inflation and unemployment rates — rose to 13.0, pushed up by higher price data the government reported on Wednesday.
The data underscores the extent that Americans continue to suffer even two years after a deep recession ended, with a weak economic recovery imperiling President Barack Obama’s hopes of winning reelection next year.
Inez Stallworth, an underwriting assistant for a financial services company, recently gave up her car, in part because of rising costs for gasoline and groceries.
“I can’t fit it in,” said the 27-year-old Chicago resident, who said most of her extended family was getting by “paycheck-to-paycheck.” Consumer prices rose 3.9 percent in the 12 months through September, the fastest pace in three years.
With gasoline prices high, consumers have less to spend on other things.
Moreover, a rise in overall prices saps economic growth, which is typically measured in inflation-adjusted terms.
The last time the misery index was at current levels was in 1983.
Harold Archie, a bus driver with the Chicago Transit Authority, knows well the toll that unemployment is taking on Americans.
Higher food and gasoline prices have compounded the strain on his finances since his son lost his job.
Archie, 57, has been helping him financially.
Archie said his son might have a shot at getting his job back, but with a pay cut: “And he was only making $13 an hour to start with.”