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How Did the US Economy Look on Election Day 2008?

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The last presidential election may seem as if it was just yesterday to many Americans, but it is a world away economically from the 2012 presidential election.

In 2008, the economy was in a tailspin.  Today, most economists say it is making a slow recovery -- too slow, the Obama and Romney campaigns agree.

The unemployment rate in October 2008 was 6.8 percent, with about 10 million unemployed people.  Today, the U.S. unemployment rate is 7.9 percent.  While the labor market has improved better than expectations recently, 12.3 million people remain unemployed.

"At the time of that election, if you were knowledgeable about the economy, you didn't know what the bottom was going to look like," said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution.

On the day of the last presidential election -- Nov. 4, 2008 -- Americans did not know that the worst downturn since the Great Depression had actually started as early as December 2007.  It was only later confirmed that real GDP had declined in the first, third and fourth quarters of 2008 and in the first quarter of 2009.

A couple months before, on Sept. 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers had declared bankruptcy.  It was the largest in U.S. history.

A couple of months later, in December 2008, the National Bureau of Economics Research's (NBER) Business Cycle Dating Committee announced that the recession began one year earlier.  The committee announced in September 2010 that the recession had ended, more than a year after the fact.

The housing market is where many Americans feel the ongoing pain most acutely.  Housing prices are still down about 7.8 percent since October 2008.  And while the foreclosure crisis has somewhat subsided, the market is still far from healthy.

In September 2008, one in every 475 housing units had foreclosure filings, RealtyTrac reported.  In September of this year, it was one in every 730 housing units.

"People whose primary asset was their house have lost wealth, especially if they live in areas where there was the biggest housing bubble prior to the recession," said Stephen Bronars, chief economist of Welch Consulting.  Hardest-hit markets include Las Vegas, South Florida, and California.

The U.S. car manufacturing industry has survived while the federal minimum wage has increased to $7.25 from the $5.85 it was in 2008.

The price of gas has fluctuated with crises in the Middle East.  The national average is now about $3.57 a gallon for regular compared to $2.66 at the end of October 2008, according to the Energy Department.

While some economic indicators seem to have improved, the fear of a "fiscal cliff" has sharpened as Election Day approaches as well.

"Inflation is still not a top concern in 2012, but because we have added $6 trillion in debt over the past four years, we are vulnerable if inflation and interest rates increase," Bronars said.

"Today we are in the midst of a slow recovery," he said.  "The static numbers look worse, in many dimensions, than they did four years ago.  The biggest difference between 2012 and 2008 is the direction of the economy.  The debate about today's economy is: Why aren't we recovering faster?"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio