So perhaps, as President Barack Obama gets set to deliver his State of the Union message after two full years in office, it's worth asking: Are you better off than you were two years ago?
The answer is probably "yes," if you're a businessman or an investor. They've done quite well over the past two years. But on most other economic measures, the picture is decidedly less bright.
Admittedly, Obama was handed an economy "in crisis," as he put it in his first State of the Union in 2009, one that would take time to fix. And the effects of any economic policy changes don't happen overnight.
Still, the recession officially ended 18 months ago -- in June 2009. So it's not entirely unfair to gauge how the country has performed since Obama took the economic reins.
Here are some of the key indicators:
If you were an investor or a businessman, the past two years have been very, very good. And the Consumer Confidence Index is also up smartly since January 2009, although it's still at a relatively low 60.6. (By way of comparison, the index was above 100 by this point after the very deep 1981-82 recession.)
The numbers below show the percentage increase since January 2009.
The Not So Good
Other indicators haven't fared as well. Personal disposable income has barely budged over the past two years, median weekly earnings have slipped a bit (after accounting for inflation), as have existing home sale prices. And the trade deficit has climbed.
The numbers below show the percentage change in each over the past two years.
Then there are the far more worrisome numbers. The national debt is above $14 trillion now, and the unemployment rate, which was 7.8 percent when Obama took office, sits at 9.4 percent. Meanwhile, there are 6.4 million people who've been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer (compared with 2.7 million in January 2009). And, while overall inflation is pretty much flat, gas prices have topped $3 a gallon -- they were $1.80 when Obama took office.
The numbers below show the percentage increase for each indicator in the two years since January 2009.