The U.S. economy is not doing fine. Not in the private sector, and especially not in the public sector. President Obama was wrong to say otherwise -- that the private sector is fine -- last week. Mitt Romney was wrong to suggest laying off teachers and firefighters hasn't hurt. And congressional Republicans are wrong to say the whole situation would improve if we just had more "certainty" around taxes and regulations.
Data tell us these things - real, hard numbers that sketch out a pretty convincing story of what's happened to the economy since the Great Recession ended officially three years ago.
Broadly speaking, we know three really important things right now.
1. The recovery is slow and weak, but progressing. It turns out we had a financial and housing crisis; those turn out to be hard things to recover from. What we've seen over the last three years is a steady drop in unemployment, but still way too many - nearly 13 million - Americans looking for work who can't find jobs.
The economy right now is like a patient coming out of a major operation, vulnerable to the slightest infection, and scared to leave the house. "Corporations are fully healed," says Ethan Harris, cohead of global economic research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "They've got good balance sheets. They've got lots of cash. They can borrow at low rates. But ... they don't trust the economy, because they don't have confidence in whether growth is sustainable or not."