American families have a net worth approximately the same today as in 1992. That's a conclusion reached by the Federal Reserve on the affect of the recession on wealth.
The grim stats remind us how far we have to go to get back to where we were.
The Federal Reserve said the median net worth of families plunged by 39 percent in just three years, from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. That puts Americans roughly on par with where they were in 1992.
The data represent one of the most detailed looks at how the economic downturn altered the landscape of family finance. Over a span of three years, Americans watched progress that took almost a generation to accumulate evaporate. The promise of retirement built on the inevitable rise of the stock market proved illusory for most. Homeownership, once heralded as a pathway to wealth, became an albatross.
The findings underscore the depth of the wounds of the financial crisis and how far many families remain from healing. If the recession set Americans back 20 years, economists say, the road forward is sure to be a long one. And so far, the country has seen only a halting recovery.
"It's hard to overstate how serious the collapse in the economy was," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics. "We were in free fall."
The recession caused the greatest upheaval among the middle class. Only roughly half of middle-class Americans remained on the same economic rung during the downturn, the Fed found. Their median net worth - the value of assets such as homes, automobiles and stocks minus any debt - suffered the biggest drops. By contrast, the wealthiest families' median net worth rose slightly.
Americans have tried to rebalance the family budget but have found it difficult to reverse the damage.
This would seem to buttress Obama's campaign narrative that the situation he inherited was worse than anything any president has had to face since the Great Depression. But it really doesn't. The fact that Obama's policies haven't helped, and may have even slowed the recovery is a far more powerful argument at this point, given the economic circumstances.
The issue isn't the past, but rather the present and future. And Obama is losing that argument.