Are You Better Off?

September 2, 2012 4:56 p.m.

It would seem that the big question being pushed going into the Democratic convention is the classic: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

For every incumbent this is an inherently fair question. Whether it is you or the country, it’s the most essential question on offer. It is also an inherently tricky one for President Obama since the economy remains anemic and job growth has yet to approach the levels necessary to really get the country fully back on its feet. Indeed, job growth fell back after briefly appearing to be in take-off mode in late 2011 and early 2012.

But there are some basic facts required to put this question in perspective.Remember four years ago?

Q3 2008: GDP -3.7%
Q4 2008: GDP -8.9%
Q1 2009: GDP -5.3%

The country and the world were in the midst of a massive global economic crisis the likes of which the planet hadn’t seen in some 80 years. Q4 2008 on its own was the second worse quarterly contraction in recorded history (quarterly GDP data goes back to 1947). There was a very real chance the global economy would go completely off the rails, touching off a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The chance of that didn’t fully lift until the spring of 2009.

Remember this chart?

In Q3 2008, the US economy shed a net 967,000 jobs. In Q4 the number was 1,801,000. Almost a million more (net) jobs were lost in January 2009.

That was four years ago. The facts speak for themselves. The operative political question President Obama has to tackle is whether, three and a half years on, things shouldn’t have improved a good deal more than they have. That is likely the question the election will turn on. But if you’re asking, are we better off now than four years ago, the facts are clear.

And it wasn’t that long ago. People remember.

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