The same question Ronald Reagan unforgettably asked Jimmy Carter in a 1980 presidential debate is being asked by Republican candidate Mitt Romney today: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

What are the numbers you should keep in your hip pocket going forward? See the numbers at the bottom -- they show this is more like the “are you better off” debate versus “it could’ve been worse recovery.” 

But before that, forget the fake “Bush recession” talk, and talk of the President “inheriting” this economic downturn. 

The Democrats have been setting economic policy for decades, and controlled both houses of Congress in the last two years of President George W. Bush’s term. Powerful Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barney Frank, and John Kerry have been around since the Reagan Administration -- and vice president Joe Biden has been in elected office since the Nixon White House.

Both sides are to blame for ramping up the deficit to now $16 trillion. President George W. Bush supported a $170 billion “stimulus” bill, as well as spending billions in taxpayer money on massive government bail-outs of banks and Wall Street houses, automakers like GM, as well as efforts to revivify the housing industry.

President Obama picked up on those moves, while larding on his own $825 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in early 2009.

Another question worth asking now is this: Should the President have focused like a laser beam on jobs and housing, and not health reform? Here are the numbers to hold on to as the “are you better off?” debate rolls forward (the data come from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Dept. of Labor, Treasury Dept., Federal Reserve, and the Dept. of Commerce).

Yes, Better Off Vs. 4 Years Ago:
*GDP up annualized 1.7% so far this year -- but this has been a recovery of downward revisions, historically flat compared to prior recoveries. This one is being called the worst performance in the 11 recessions over the past 60 years.
*Corporate profits up 63% since President Obama was inaugurated
*The Dow is up 57%. The S&P 500 is up 65%. And the Nasdaq Composite is up 99%.
*Core inflation is tame

And now, the negatives (this is before the $600 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January 2013 -- with the Federal Reserve scrambling to put its cushion of printed money at the bottom of this fiscal cliff).

No, Not Better Off Vs. 4 Years Ago:
*$16 trillion deficit - government spending has rocketed to more than 25% of GDP from 21.4%, the largest peacetime expansion of government spending in U.S. history.
*Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has more than tripled.
*Net 316,000 jobs lost – truly a jobless recovery
*8.3% jobless rate - 42 months of 8%-plus unemployment versus 6.1% in August 2008, and unemployment below 5% in 2007
*Proportion of the labor force employed now at a 30-year low
*39% drop in median net worth to $77,300 in 2010 from $126,400 (latest data available from the Federal Reserve)
*8% drop in average annual income
*Nearly on-third of mortgages are underwater
*1.5 million homes in or nearing foreclosure
*$2.5 trillion in cash held captive on corporate balance sheets, as execs keep power dry watching D.C.
*US multinational companies increased employment overseas by 2.4 million from 2000 to 2009, even as they cut US workforce by 2.9 million.

On top of all this, since 1999, student loan debt has increased by 511%, while disposable income has increased by only 73%.

Elizabeth MacDonald joined FOX Business Network (FBN) as stocks editor in September 2007.
Follow Elizabeth MacDonald on Twitter @LizMacDonaldFOX.