Are Americans better off now than they were four years ago?
"Absolutely," said Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for President Barack Obama. "By any measure the country has moved forward over the last four years."
She overlooked these measures, as cataloged by Investors.com:
• Median family income has fallen 7.3 percent (about $4,000) since Mr. Obama's inauguration. Most of that decline (4.8 percent) has happened since the recovery officially began in July 2009.
• The unemployment rate was 7.8 percent when Mr. Obama took office, but has been above 8 percent in every month since, the longest period of prolonged high unemployment since the Great Depression, according to the Congressional Budget Office. There are now 811,000 more long-term unemployed than when the recession officially ended.
• The poverty rate has increased from 14.3 percent in 2009 to 15.1 percent. There are nearly 12 million more people receiving food stamps now than when the recovery began.
• Gas prices have doubled since Mr. Obama became president. We spend about 21 percent more on food each week than we did in 2010.
This is all the fault of President Bush, Democrats say. "We had lost, in the last six months of the Bush presidency, 3.5 million jobs and now we've created 4.5 million jobs since Barack Obama took office in the private sector," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., chair of the Democratic National Committee.
That 4.5 million figure was chosen more for art than accuracy. It dates from January 2010, after the steep slide ended. Since Mr. Obama became president in January 2009, the net gain in private sector employment is just 300,000, CNN noted. And because government jobs have been lost, too, there were 400,000 fewer workers on nonfarm payrolls in July than there had been in January 2009.
Most of the jobs lost were in "mid-wage" occupations, according to the National Employment Law Project. Most of those added since are low-wage.
To keep pace with the increase in the size of the working-age population, the economy must add about 180,000 jobs a month, estimated Antony Davies, an economics professor at Duquesne University. Since January 2010, job growth has averaged 138,000 a month. Since the recovery officially began, job growth has averaged 86,000 a month.
Through June, only 46 percent of jobs lost had been replaced, "by far the worst performance since World War II," noted the Associated Press. "In the previous eight recoveries, the economy had regained more than 350 percent of the jobs lost, on average."
Job growth in the Obama "recovery" looks especially anemic compared to the Reagan recovery from arguably a worse recession. In 1982, the unemployment rate almost doubled (from 5.6 percent to 10.8 percent). The Reagan recovery lasted for 72 months, during which an average of 344,900 new jobs were created each month.
Yet Ms. Cutter claims President Obama has created more jobs than Reagan did. It's difficult to say which is the more challenged: her math skills or her integrity.
James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute does the math for her:
"From the end of the recession in June 2009 through July 2012 -- the first 37 months of the Obama recovery -- the U.S. economy has generated 2.7 million net new jobs. From the jobs low point in February 2010, the U.S. economy has generated 4 million net new jobs.
"From the end of the 1981-82 recession through the end of 1985 -- the first 37 months of the Reagan recovery -- the United States created 9.8 million net new jobs. And if you adjust for the larger U.S. population today, the comparable figure is more than 12 million jobs."
The Obama "recovery" would look even worse if it weren't for all the Republican governors elected in 2010. According to Conn Carroll of the Washington Examiner, states with Republican governors have an average unemployment rate of 7.6 percent -- 1.2 percentage points lower than states with Democrat governors.
Both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama inherited bad economies. Reagan made a boom. Mr. Obama made excuses. In 1984, Americans were much better off than they had been in 1980. In 2012, most are worse off than they were four years ago.
The difference between Reagan's success and Mr. Obama's failure is policy, which the statistic about the governors underscores. As Clint Eastwood said to the empty chair: "When someone does not do the job, you have got to let them go."
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412 263-1476).