President Barack Obama © KeystoneUSA-ZUMA, Rex Features

Two years, more than 30 debates, a record $6 billion spent, and what do we have to show for it? The political balance in Washington, D.C., has barely budged. Latin may be a dead language, but the term "status quo" has never been more appropriate.

For President Barack Obama, four more years in the White House will be an opportunity to cement his place in history and to show whether he can move the country "forward." Job No. 1 in that regard is to increase employment and strengthen the economy.

Obama's legacy may ultimately be based on his health care law -- or perhaps his Wall Street reform or his stimulus bill. It may yet be built on a grand bargain that tackles Social Security and Medicare costs, or tax reform, or a new immigration law that gets pushed through in the next four years. Or it may yet be determined by his response to some unforeseen crisis -- a 3 a.m. phone call about another act of terror or global threat.

But much as former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are remembered in large part for the economic expansions that took place while they were in office, Obama's presidency is likely to be measured by the extent to which today's sluggish recovery gains momentum in the coming months and years, or whether it peters out and leaves businesses and families in no better shape to deal with the financial challenges ahead.

One thing did change Tuesday night: Obama will no longer be able to blame George W. Bush for the state of the economy. Voters may have agreed with the president about the depth of the hole we were in and who put us there, but having won another term, it is Obama's economy now. Following is a look at where it stands.

GDP vs. the Great Recession

© St. Louis Federal Reserve

The U.S. has enjoyed a decades-long stretch of economic prosperity. The Great Recession was the most severe break in that stretch. While the economy has been growing since the second half of 2009, that growth has been bumpy -- and modest at best.

Interest rates

Interest rates © St. Louis Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve has pushed interest rates to historically low levels in an attempt to speed the recovery.

Potential inflation

Potential inflation © St. Louis Federal Reserve

Although the low interest rates have fueled fears among some that inflation will become a problem, core inflation (blue) has been tame even as food and gas prices have been somewhat volatile.

Housing prices

Housing prices © St. Louis Federal Reserve

Low interest rates have helped stabilize the housing market after a long and painful bust. Housing remains far from robust, but there are signs of improvement in an area of the economy that had been a huge drag on growth.

Stock market

Stock market © St. Louis Federal Reserve

The stock market has surged during Obama's time in office, regaining much of what it lost during the economic crisis.

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Consumer confidence

Consumer confidence © St. Louis Federal Reserve

The wealth effect from the housing and stock market gains have resulted in improved consumer confidence.

Corporate profits

Corporate profits © St. Louis Federal Reserve

While consumers are just starting to feel better, businesses have fared well since the downturn, with profits rebounding to record levels.

Personal vs. business spending

Personal vs. business spending  © St. Louis Federal Reserve

Still, as consumers have grown more confident recently, businesses have grown more anxious. Companies have recently been scaling back their spending due to increasing worries about sputtering economic growth around the world.

Overall employment

Overall employment © St. Louis Federal Reserve

Souring corporate sentiment could be a worrisome development for a job market that, while still depressed, has been improving. The economy has added 2.1 million jobs in the past year, but it is still more than 4 million jobs shy of where it was in January 2008.

Public vs. private employment

Public vs. private employment © St. Louis Federal Reserve

The private sector has added some jobs, while the government has been shedding them, at least until recently.

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Unemployment rate

Unemployment rate © St. Louis Federal Reserve

The unemployment rate, which hit 10% in October 2009, has dropped below 8%. Yet it is still historically high, at 7.9% as of last month -- a tick above the 7.8% unemployment when Obama took office in 2009

Employment vs. population

Employment vs. population © St. Louis Federal Reserve

The percentage of Americans with jobs is near a 30-year low.

Labor participation

Labor participation © St. Louis Federal Reserve

Discouraged workers have left the job market, although some have returned recently as the employment picture has shown signs of improvement.

Personal income

Personal income © St. Louis Federal Reserve

Even as the jobs market has gotten modestly stronger, real income has been stagnant.


Wages © St. Louis Federal Reserve

Wages, as a percentage of the overall economy, have fallen to historic lows.

Entitlement spending

Entitlement spending © St. Louis Federal Reserve

With demographic shifts and high unemployment, the government has been spending more and more on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Federal debt

Federal debt © St. Louis Federal Reserve

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Another looming problem: The federal debt has ballooned, leading many economists to worry that it will prevent future growth. And the annual budget deficit has been more than $1 trillion in each of Obama's four years in office.

And though Obama and leaders in Congress will need to come up with a long-term plan to address those big budgetary issues, they also have a more immediate problem to solve: the fiscal cliff.

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