Jobless wish candidates would focus on economy

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WASHINGTON — Two weeks after Allen Black bought a brand-new Nissan Altima, his coal mining job at Booth Energy in Martin County, Ky. was abruptly eliminated. The company blamed market conditions. Black, who’s 49 and from Paintsville, Ky., blamed the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I wouldn’t have made the decision to purchase a vehicle if I knew it was coming,” he said. Indeed, his unemployment insurance provides only 30 percent of his former $65,000-plus annual salary.

Black is angry with the EPA for what he called its “war on coal” by holding up permits for surface mining and costing jobs. But he’s equally frustrated with the failure of President Barack Obama and Republican White House nominee Mitt Romney to focus more attention on the job shortage and the plight of unemployed workers like himself.

Whether it’s Medicare, taxes, abortion rights, Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital or the latest gaffe du jour, the economy has taken a backseat to attack ads, name calling and narrow concerns.

“I look at the election process now and this is like watching ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey,’ ” Black said. “It has taken on the form of some sort of grotesque reality show.”

Given the chance, he’d tell both candidates: “Put the mud down. Go wash your hands, roll up your sleeves and get to work on fixing this country instead of slandering each other.”

As the nation celebrates American workers today, many of the 12.8 million unemployed Americans who are looking for their next jobs probably share Black’s sentiment.

The unemployment rate in July was 8.3 percent, and it’s remained above 8 percent for the length of the Obama presidency. In political terms, that’s unexplored terrain. Since World War II, no president has run for re-election carrying that kind of economic baggage.

Not all the news has been bad. By July, the labor market had gained back 4 million of the 8.7 million jobs lost in the Great Recession.

But the remaining 4.7 million jobs and another 5 million that would have been created in an otherwise sound economy mean that the country is operating at a deficit of 9.7 million jobs, said Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research center.

More than 5 million people, or roughly 40 percent of the unemployed, have been out of work for at least six months, the government estimates.

With more than three unemployed people for every job opening, finding work remains a tall order as employers delay hiring amid tepid demand for goods and services.

Since February 2010, the private sector has produced 29 straight months of job growth, adding more than 4.5 million positions, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. But over the same period, state and local governments have cut more than half a million positions, largely because of budget reductions.

Obama wants to extend tax cuts to families making less than $250,000 a year and let them expire for the wealthy. His American Jobs Act proposal touts job creation through infrastructure investment and increased funding to state and local governments to stop public-sector job losses.

Romney’s campaign has tried to refocus the race on economic issues. He wants to cut taxes and regulations for businesses to spur job creation, while cutting government programs and spending to trim the federal deficit.

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