"Simply put, the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days compared to where we are right now," Paul Ryan quipped to a crowd at East Carolina University on Sunday night. As ABC News has found, some of the data Ryan invoked to support this conclusion is just wrong. Ryan said in 1980, 330,000 businesses filed for bankruptcy; it was more like 44,000. He said that 1.4 million businesses filed for bankruptcy in 2011; it was about 48,000. The numbers Ryan used were personal bankruptcy figures, which he passed off as business bankruptcies.
But what about Ryan's broader claim, that, in his words, Obama "can't tell you that you're better off"? It's difficult to substantiate. By just about every metric, the economy is doing better than it was in January 2009 (that is, of course, a low bar to clear, as the economy was falling off a cliff in January 2009). And while Obama's tenure has seen consistent, albeit insufficient, economic progress, things actually got much worse over Carter's tenure.
Ryan mentioned that the unemployment rate is higher under Obama than it was at this point in Carter's term. Very true - but this leaves out that the rate is currently falling, whereas it was rising under Carter:
What's more, unemployment kept getting worse after Carter left office, peaking at 10.8 percent in November and December of 1982, a full 0.8 points higher than the peak in Obama's tenure, reached in September 2009. But the main reason people remember the Carter years so dismally is that inflation was truly out of control. If anything, it's been too low under Obama:
Obama has averaged 1.6 percent annual CPI growth - well under the 2 percent target the Fed tries to hit. Carter averaged an astonishing 9.4 percent inflation rate, with a peak of 14.6 percent in March and April of 1980. Economists often use the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates — commonly termed the "misery index" — as a proxy for economic hardship. That index was much, much worse under Carter than under Obama and, again, it had a worrisome trajectory:
What's more, growth under Carter was incredibly erratic and when the economy started shrinking, it started really shrinking, by 7.9 percent in quarter two of 1980 alone. That's well above the 5.3 percent shrinkage of Obama's first, and worst, quarter, and close to the 8.9 percent contraction of the fourth quarter of 2008:
Obviously, standards of living have gone up tremendously since 1980. After over 30 years of technological advances and economic growth, it'd hard for that not to be the case. So there aren't many Americans for whom 2012 is a worse year than 1980, for reasons totally unrelated to Obama or Carter's performance on the job.
But one thing all the above data shows is that, Ryan's protestations aside, Carter's term actually saw the economic situation deteriorate whereas Obama's has seen it improve. It hasn't improved enough, or quickly enough, but the trajectory is positive. For Carter, by contrast, things were getting worse and fast.