A stunning report that showed household wealth was so sapped by the recession that families' net worth got set back 20 years quickly became a campaign football -- as Mitt Romney pointed to the numbers in arguing President Obama is out of touch.
"The American people are facing really tough circumstances. They're looking at how they're going to pay for retirement," Romney told Fox News on Tuesday. "The president needs to go out and talk to people, not just do fundraisers."
The Republican presidential candidate was referring to a new Federal Reserve report that showed the 2010 median family net worth was no more than it had been in 1992. The Fed further reported that median worth fell "dramatically" between 2007 and 2010 -- by nearly 39 percent.
"That's why the American people are having such a hard time," Romney said. "That's why the idea of selecting a campaign slogan 'forward' is so absurd."
Median net worth declined from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010, the Fed survey of family finances found. The recession officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.
The Obama administration, though, defended the steps it has taken to try and reverse the economic slump.
Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said the good news is that families have "recaptured" a "substantial share" of that wealth over the past 18 months.
And he pointed to the study as evidence that "we've got to fight this on all fronts."
A day earlier, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney blamed Republicans for failing to act on the president's jobs initiatives and continued to point out that the economic crisis preceded Obama's term.
"The hole was deep and filling it back in takes some time," he said. "And we've made some progress."
Net worth is the value of assets like homes, bank accounts and stocks, minus debts like mortgages and credit cards
The Fed's findings are in its latest Survey of Consumer Finances, a comprehensive review of household finances that the Fed has done every three years dating to 1989.
The Fed's survey of consumer finances contains information only through 2010. A separate survey the Fed released last week showed that total family net worth climbed 4.7 percent in the January-March quarter to $62.9 trillion, about 28 percent above its recession low. The increase was fueled by stock market gains.
Those gains put net worth about 5 percent below its pre-recession peak of $66 trillion. But since the first quarter ended, lower stock prices have eroded some household wealth.
The Fed's more detailed Survey of Consumer Finances is done every three years. The latest survey showed Monday that much of the drop in net worth from 2007 to 2010 reflected the collapse of the housing market, which drove down home values.
Among families that owned homes, the Fed survey found that their median home equity declined from $95,300 in 2007 to $55,000 in 2010, a drop of 42.3 percent. Home equity is the home's value minus how much is owed on the mortgage.
The Fed survey found that median incomes fell from $49,600 in 2007 to $45,800 in 2010, a drop of 7.7 percent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.