CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When asked on Sunday talk shows if Americans are better off today than they were four years ago, senior advisers to President Barack Obama didn't say yes.

On "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace asked David Axelrod, "Can you honestly say the average American is better off today than four years ago?"

"Here's what I can say, Chris," answered Axelrod, who advises Obama's reelection campaign. "We are in a better position than we were in the economy in the sense that when the president took office, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month, and the quarter before he took office was the worst since the Great Depression. We are [now] in a different place: 29 straight months of job growth and private sector jobs. Are we where we need to be? No."

Axelrod then pointed out that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had failed to outline a specific alternative during his speech at the Republican National Convention last Thursday -- a convention that Axelrod called "a terrible failure."

Wallace recited grim statistics reflecting increased unemployment, higher gas prices, more national debt and lower incomes. He put the question to Axelrod again.

"I think the average American recognizes it took years to create the crisis that erupted in 2008 and peaked in January 2009," Axelrod said. "It's going to take some time to work through it."

On ABC's "This Week," host George Stephanopoulos had similar difficulty prying a yes-or-no answer to the "better off" question from Obama senior adviser David Plouffe.

"I think the American people understand that we got into a terrible economic situation, a recession -- the Great Depression is the only one the country has ever seen like it," Plouffe said, before pivoting to a broad criticism of Romney's policies.

Stephanopoulos tried once more, but Plouffe dodged, saying Romney would make things worse. "You still can't say yes," Stephanopoulos said.

"Well, we clearly improved, George, from the depth of the recession," Plouffe responded. "We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We're now gaining them."

There were 316,000 net fewer jobs in July 2012 compared with January 2009, according to the Labor Department.

Romney campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom noted on Twitter, "The question Plouffe and @davidaxelrod wouldn't answer on the Sunday shows: Are we better off now than four years ago?"

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