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It's all about jobs

January 16, 2011|By Andrew Malcolm

You probably could never guess what problem Americans see as the No. 1 job for the No. 1 elected official to address right now:

It's jobs/unemployment — again — still.

That's been the major concern along with the overall economy across the country for way more than a year now. In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama asked himself: "How long should we wait?" Republican Scott Brown had just pulled off a historic Senate election upset in Massachusetts, in large part because of voter unhappiness with the president's healthcare preoccupation instead of the stagnant jobs situation.

Twenty-three months ago in a speech at the Caterpillar factory in Peoria, Ill., the new president promised that the economy would recover with many thousands of new jobs if his economic stimulus package passed Congress. Which it did. But they didn't.

On Jan. 8, in his weekly remarks, the president said the usual about jobs — that he was encouraged by some growth in hiring but he knew it wasn't enough and more jobs would be arriving real soon. When the administration fought for that economic stimulus package two years ago, the argument was that those billions would hold the unemployment rate below 8%.

Last month, unemployment was 9.4%, and the president has tried to argue that was an encouraging sign of progress.

In the last 62 years, the unemployment rate has exceeded 10% only twice — in 1982 and last year — and 1975 was the only other year to exceed 9%.

So it is perhaps not surprising that the Democratic president's ruling congressional party paid a historic price in last November's midterm elections. Nor is it surprising that a new Gallup poll finds unemployment and jobs are again the top concerns of Americans.

Not only that, but a separate Gallup survey reported that a whopping 93% of Americans polled think it is extremely or very important that Obama and Congress address the economy's problems, 89% say that about unemployment and 84% feel that way now about the federal deficit.

Obama was going to talk economy last week during a photogenic trip to Schenectady, N.Y. But that plan, like most other things political, was postponed after the Tucson shootings.

This coming week the president is rolling out the red carpet for the state visit of China's president, Hu Jintao. And the week after that is the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

But job concerns are not waiting among impatient voters. The new Gallup results show 29% of Americans polled list jobs and unemployment as the top worry, having surpassed concern with the economy (26%) just in the last month.

The No. 3 economic concern is the deficit, which has risen in the last 12 months from 6% to 12% of GDP. The No. 3 concern overall is healthcare (13%), but that's barely half the percentage that listed it in 2009.

Right behind the deficit, at 11%, is dissatisfaction with government, including the president and Congress. Also corruption. Way down the list are immigration (6%), war (5%) and lack of respect for each other (2%).

But Gallup also points to a simmering concern that could hold potential political impact for the 2012 cycle — fuel prices.

Concern there, as gas prices topped $3 a gallon, is only at 3% now. But when gas prices surged to $4 a gallon in mid-2008, concern surged too (up to 25%), which didn't do the ruling White House party any good come that November's balloting.

andrew.malcolm@latimes.com

Top of the Ticket, The Times' blog on national politics (http://www.latimes.com/ticket) is a blend of commentary, analysis and news. This is a selection from the last week.

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