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Kerry to unveil 'misery index' 

/ Source: The Associated Press

John Kerry is broadening his economic assault on President Bush with a “misery index” that suggests a combination of soaring college and health care costs and stagnant incomes have battered working families during Bush’s term, campaign documents obtained Sunday showed.

Much of the Democrats’ criticism of Bush is focused on job losses during his tenure, but Kerry’s study argues that far broader and more ominous economic trends are at work.

“Less noted, but perhaps even more important, is the fact that middle-class families are increasingly being squeezed by the rising cost of health care, college tuition and gasoline at the same time that wages and incomes are stagnating and personal bankruptcies are at record levels,” the campaign report said.

Kerry’s presidential campaign planned a formal release Monday at coordinated events in more than a dozen electorally competitive states. The document, obtained Sunday by the AP, discusses the economic status of all 50 states.

Between 2000 and 2003, the study says, inflation-adjusted figures show wages dropped 0.2 percent while tuition at public colleges and universities increased by 13 percent. The campaign says the tuition increase is the largest on record for a comparable time span. At the same time, health insurance premiums grew by 11 percent and gasoline prices were up by 15 percent, according to the study.

Kerry’s campaign argues that those increased burdens far outstripped any financial gain from a series of Bush-sponsored tax cuts, which his administration contends put more money in the pockets of working families.

“This is an index about how the real economy is affecting real working families,” said Gene B. Sperling, a top economic adviser to former President Clinton. Sperling also is a top economic adviser to Kerry.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt dismissed the index as a political stunt.

“John Kerry has made a calculation that if he talks down the economy, it will benefit him politically,” he said.

Schmidt also said the economy is growing “at its fastest rate in 20 years” and pointed to the recent Labor Department report that some 308,000 new jobs were created last month. Nearly 2 million jobs have been lost during Bush’s tenure.

Campaign officials said they prepared the study with economic data from the Census Bureau; the College Board; the federal agency that runs the Medicaid and Medicare health programs; and other government agencies, independent sources and advocacy groups.

The report examined median family incomes, college tuition, health insurance costs, gasoline prices, personal bankruptcies, homeownership rates and private sector job growth. It says six of the seven statistics worsened during Bush’s term; only home ownership rates improved.

With gasoline prices at near-record levels, each of the White House rivals seeks to blame the other. Bush’s campaign has laid out a series of Kerry actions as senator from Massachusetts that could have led to increase gas prices. Kerry’s study says drivers paid an additional $24 billion for gasoline this year, averaging out to $300 per family.

The campaign calculated the “Middle Class Misery Index” of Bush’s and previous administrations and found a 13-point dip between 2000 and 2003, the biggest drop since President Carter’s term. The report found a deterioration of five points during President Reagan’s two terms, and a decline of 12 points during Bush’s father’s presidency.

The index stood at 112 in 2000, but had dipped to 99 by 2003. A higher score means families are better off.

Sperling said officials chose a range of economic statistics that would give an accurate picture of the economy and its effect on working families. He rejected suggestions that figures were chosen to make the economy look worse than it is.

Kerry marked the Easter Sunday holiday by going to church, where he accepted Holy Communion. Some Roman Catholic leaders have criticized Kerry’s support for abortion rights and stem cell research, both of which are at odds with church teachings, and have suggested he be denied church sacraments as a result.