Four years ago, during the last presidential campaign, the American economy was collapsing faster than it had since the Great Depression. Now, with the 2012 election upon us, most analysts agree that the economy is in a period of slow recovery—a bit too slow, according to just about everyone.

Nearly a month before to the last election, unemployment was at about 6.8 percent, meaning about 10 million people were out of work. Currently, the unemployment rate is higher (7.9 percent), though on its way down from a peak of over 10 percent; about 12.3 million people are without jobs.

According to the National Bureau of Economics Research, the Great Recession actually started back in 2007; gross domestic product (GDP) declined in the first, third and fourth quarters of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009. It wasn't until a year later that the NBER announced the end of the recession.

Still, housing remains a problem. Home prices are stuck below previous levels, but in some respects things are at least starting to improve. Two months before the 2008 presidential election, one in every 475 housing units had fallen into foreclosure; today, it is one in every 730.

About six weeks prior to the election in 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed, setting off an enormous financial crisis. The government jumped in, taking unprecedented steps to bail out some of the country's biggest banks in the hopes of averting a global economic meltdown. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in October remains a highly controversial bill.

Even though the economy is slowly repairing itself, some analysts say America is actually worse off than before—arguing that the only difference between the condition of today’s economy and that of 2008 is the direction in which it is headed.

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