In Ohio, one of the presidential battleground states, the news that the economy created 308,000 new jobs last month was met with a healthy dose of working-class skepticism.

“I don’t know where these jobs are,” Don Ferres, a 25-year machinist in Lorain, told the World. “We have 10 percent unemployment here.”

The March labor report grabbed media and stock market attention with the higher-than-expected jobs-creation number. George W. Bush immediately heralded the Labor Department’s report as a vindication of his economic policies, especially his tax cuts for the rich.

In the race for the White House, jobs and the economy have polled as the top issues on voters’ minds, and a Bush “jobless recovery” is widely seen as his Achilles’ heel. Over 2.8 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office, the biggest job loss since the Great Depression.

The stock market rallied in response to the job numbers, jubilant over the news. “The jobs report has become a key election issue – the stronger the report, the better the chances for President Bush’s re-election,” wrote David Malpass, chief global economist for Bear, Stearns, in the Wall Street Journal.

“We don’t see it here,” Dan Radford, secretary-treasurer of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO told the World. “There’s more of a downturn. I’m happy with any increase in employment, but it’s not as rosy as some make it out to be. All the good jobs are disappearing.”

“Good jobs” is working-class code for manufacturing jobs, which are more likely to be union with higher pay and better benefits.

“We wish this kind of job gain had been created over the long haul,” Pierrette (Petee) Talley, Ohio AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, told the World. “Since 2001, Ohio has lost over 200,000 jobs. The effect of that is the state budget has gone awry with a $2 billion shortfall. Government has increased sales taxes. So Ohio working families get hit on both ends – taxes up, employment down,” she said.

The March labor report indicated that wages did not outpace inflation. Other troublesome spots in the report that indicate economic problems for working-class families included the following:

• Hours worked per week were down.

• Temporary employment was down.

• The official unemployment figure rose to 5.7 percent, with African Americans at 10.2 percent, Latinos at 7.4 percent, and teenagers at 16.5 percent.

• Some job growth in retail and construction were attributable to one-time factors such as the end of the California grocery workers’ strike and the change of weather.

Economists across the board point to these as indicators of a weak demand for labor. “Monthly reports are volatile. You cut through the data and look at the underlying trends. This report does not show a true growth of labor demand,” Lee Price, research director at the Economic Policy Institute, told the World.

The monthly jobs report comes down to spin versus reality. And in vote-rich, manufacturing-based, heartland states like Ohio, workers face the reality of economic insecurity. A Wall Street strategist told Bloomberg News, “The Bush administration has every right to bask and say that their tax cuts have made a difference, but I think there’s probably still some anxiety in places like Ohio.”

Ferres, who is also the secretary-treasurer of Machinist Union Lodge 1802, agreed. “The steel mill is just hanging on. The Ford plant is getting ready to close down. That takes jobs and the tax base out of this community.”

Ferres’ wife worked at the same hot glue machine plant as he for 16-17 years until she was laid off a few years ago. It took her a year to find another job. Now she is working at Dillards and making one-third of what she made before.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” Ferres said. “We are being hit big time.” Ferres said home foreclosures are way up. “Three or four pages worth in the newspaper every week.”

At the opposite end of the state, Radford sees a sense of urgency among people. “More individuals come up to me and say, ‘we have to get this man out of the White House.’”

In terms of issues, “Jobs and the economy, along with health care, are about equal. The situation in Iraq, everyone is concerned. There is less and less confidence in the current administration’s foreign policy affairs,” Radford said.

“I was very encouraged today [April 6]. About 3,000 people attended the rally for Sen. John Kerry. And not all were Democrats,” he said.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org.

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