The outcome of the upcoming electoral battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will depend on public perceptions of the president’s economic stewardship, with particular emphasis on his performance on the all-important issue of jobs.

Has the White House compiled an impressive record of “putting Americans back to work” as the Democrats proudly boast, or did administration policies actually delay normal processes of recovery, taking a bad situation and “making it worse” as the Romney campaign insists?

Leaving aside the dubious nature of the proposition that any president actually creates jobs (other than new hires for the White House), there’s an easy way to cut through the dizzying flurry of conflicting statistics that partisans on both sides passionately promote: checking the raw, readily available data from the Department of Labor on how many Americans are working today compared with the number who held jobs at the end of the Bush administration.