Economy by the Numbers: Are We Better Off Than We Were in 2008?

Are you better off than four years ago?
This fall, as Americans prepare to mark their ballots, Republicans are hoping that voters' minds will be focused on one (and only one) simple question: Are you better off today than you were four years ago?

On the campaign trail, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has repeatedly raised that question, evoking Ronald Reagan's 1980 zinger -- a debate-closer that left Jimmy Carter reeling and set the stage for the Gipper's landslide victory. In a speech earlier this week at Eastern Carolina University, he connected those dots, claiming that "Every president since the Great Depression who asked Americans to send them into a second term could say that you are better off today than you were four years ago, except for Jimmy Carter and for President Barack Obama."

Ryan's claim packs a rhetorical punch, but the question remains: Are you better or worse off today than you were four years ago? On the surface, the answer appears self-evident: Unemployment is still high, manufacturing is shrinking, and construction spending remains low.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, the answer isn't quite as clear as they would like.

Jobs: A Slow Recovery

Jobs are a good place to start: In July 2008, as the Great Recession was beginning to sink its teeth into America, the country lost 210,000 jobs. Over the following four months, things continued to go downhill: the economy shed 274,000 jobs in August, 432,000 in September, 489,000 in October and 803,000 in November. By the day of Obama's inauguration in January, the economy had shed 4 million jobs.

When Obama took office, the rise of the ocean didn't begin to slow and the planet didn't begin to heal, but job losses did start to decline. And, while it took until March 2010 for the economy to begin adding jobs again, the first year of the Obama presidency witnessed a fairly consistent drop in the rate of unemployment growth.

Employment numbers

Mitt Romney attempted to dismiss the job growth on Obama's watch in a January interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham: "The economy always gets better after a recession, there is always a recovery," he declared. While true, this comment presents an interesting rhetorical tangle. Romney seems to be arguing that the question isn't whether the jobs situation has improved since Obama has been in office, but whether or not it could have improved more. For Obama, that's a difficult argument to defend against; after all, hindsight is always 20/20. Then again, it's also a difficult argument for Romney to make.

Path to recovery

Slow But Steady

Jobs aren't the only measure by which the economy has improved on Obama's watch. The personal bankruptcy rate dropped between 2010 and 2011, and the rate of business bankruptcies has been steadily dropping since it hit a peak in 2009. At the same time, RealtyTrac reports, foreclosure rates have also been dropping. According to the real estate information company, foreclosure rates in 2011 were 34% lower than in 2010, 33% lower than in 2009, and 19% lower than in 2008.

But these improvements, while significant, are not particularly impressive. For example, although the economy is no longer losing jobs, it is adding them at a rate that barely keeps up with the new workers entering the job market. In other words, the unemployment rate is holding steady in the low 8% range. Obama himself has given his administration an "incomplete" grade on its handling of the great recession, arguing that the economy is still in the process of recovery.

Ultimately, comparisons between today and four years ago may not be apt. A better question may be whether it's better to be in a car hurtling off a cliff or in a hospital afterwards, suffering through a long, slow recovery. In that context, the ultimate decision for voters will be whether Dr. Obama or Dr. Romney offers a better treatment plan.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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Yes I am better off. But it is only by the grace of God. Not man.

October 09 2012 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Im dizzy with how to start, this prez has weakened our country in so many ways i cant count. anyone who wants to vote for obama do yourself a favor go see 2016 and get back to me. thanks

September 20 2012 at 3:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Its taking along time toget out of this recession? its four years and counting?

September 19 2012 at 9:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Community organizing, my Father's dreams, Brother's keeper, just not my own brother George who is a poor slum dog living in a hut. My alternative lifestyle man friend who I shared a small apartment with in college, and had the chance to enjoy smoking reefer, and cocaine, and expressing our feelings about each other. Yeah he is better off than he was, but not the rest of America. This guy is a fraud always will be!! Next!

September 18 2012 at 8:21 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
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Nobody ever achieved any success without a government hand. Without land sanctions, without education, without a defense or police. Without a monetary system backed by the full faith of all citizens, who also adapted written rules and regulations. It is just unfortunate that some folks find loopholes, or are motivated by unusually ruthless need to covert or control. Theology, communism, anarchy have all proved useful only for short periods of revolution. We might call it a correction. We have adapted and evolved to where we are now. Life is not easy; And yes, in truth we are all better off now than we were 3 years ago. .

September 18 2012 at 7:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to display advanced's comment

"We are all part of the same hypocrisy"

--- Michael Corleone, 1976

September 18 2012 at 8:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

toosmart4u just remember dems controlled both houses from2006 to 2010.Somehow you liberals always forget that.Also as you said repub controlled house for last 2 yars also means there was a dem controlled senate for last 6 years that have yet to pass a budget.I say we need a new party that works for Americans and not for parties or lobbyist or donors

September 18 2012 at 7:49 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Four years ago the stock market was at 6,500, now it's above 13,000. Most people think that a 100% return in 4 years is pretty good. Anyone who thinks 6,000 is better than 13,000 should give me $13,000 dollars and I'll pay them back $6,500.00 dollars. Anyone? Remember 4 years ago we had our color coded chart to tell us if the terrorists were likely to attack that day. Code Red day because there was chatter! Code Orange! We've gone from losing 750,000 jobs a month 4 years ago to adding plus 100,000 jobs every month like clockwork. Don't listen to the blame America first crowd. Love it or leave it was what we used to tell the U.S.A. haters. Still applies.

September 18 2012 at 6:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

We should put it this way, were you better off after 8 years of the bush administration whom started this mess. And remember the last two years was the republicans controlled congress. We will be better off with social security, medicare, jobs, etc. if we elect the democrats back into power of all three branche of congress. Republicans will ship more jobs out and deregulate everything, we will leave our children and grandchildren a messy & dirty America.

September 18 2012 at 5:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually there was a recovery underway when bush left office. When B O took office he stopped it in it's tracks

September 18 2012 at 4:59 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

For those who are listening to the liberals propagating the fallacy that everything is "Bush's Fault", think about this: January 3rd, 2007 was the day the Democrats took over the Senate and the Congress. At the time:The DOW Jones closed at 12,621.77 The GDP for the previous quarter was 3.5% The Unemployment rate was 4.6% George Bush's Economic policies SET A RECORD of 52 STRAIGHT MONTHS of JOB GROWTH Remember the day...January 3rd, 2007 was the day that Barney Frank took over the House Financial Services Committee and Chris Dodd took over the Senate Banking Committee. The economic meltdown that happened 15 months later was in what part of the economy? BANKING AND FINANCIAL SERVICES! Unemployment... to this CRISIS by (among MANY other things) dumping 5-6 TRILLION Dollars of toxic loans on the economy from YOUR Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac FIASCOES!
Bush asked Congress 17 TIMES to stop Fannie & Freddie - starting in 2001 because it was financially risky for the US economy. And who took the THIRD highest pay-off from Fannie Mae AND Freddie Mac? OBAMA And who fought against reform of Fannie and Freddie? OBAMA and the Democrat Congress. So when someone tries to blame Bush. REMEMBER JANUARY 3rd, 2007....

September 18 2012 at 3:53 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Sunny's comment

Can you explain why Bush wasn't at the RNC? You would think he would've loved to boast about his record.

September 18 2012 at 2:01 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Great post! I only wish more people understood who was responsible for the mess.

September 18 2012 at 5:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply