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Jobs numbers show working-class voters struggling

October 05, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • Job applicants wait for the opening of a job fair held by National Career Fairs in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Job applicants wait for the opening of a job fair held by National Career… (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky,…)

They’re one of the most sought-after voting blocs, prevalent in swing states such as Ohio, but if today’s job numbers are any indication, working-class voters could still be very much up for grabs in this election.

That’s because as the country’s economy slowly improves, more people who traditionally work in manufacturing, logistics, or other professions that don’t require a college degree are increasingly dropping out of the labor force and giving up looking for work.

There were 11.7 million workers with less than a high school diploma in the labor force last September – now there are just 11.2 million, indicating that 500,000 people with less than a high school diploma have given up looking for jobs in a tough economy. Among people with a high school degree but no college, 663,000 people have dropped out of the labor force since a year ago and their participation rate has dropped from 60.5% to 59.5%.

By contrast, 1.5 million people with a bachelor’s degree or higher have rejoined the labor market since September 2011, indicating they are optimistic about their ability to find work.

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have spent considerable resources targeting working-class voters as the election nears.

A new Romney ad shows him in a factory, talking directly to voters in Ohio. "The question Ohio families are asking is who can bring back the jobs? Under President Obama, we've lost over half a million manufacturing jobs,” he says. His running mate, Paul Ryan, has used a shuttered factory in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., to criticize Obama’s policies, although the factory was scheduled to be closed before Obama took office.  

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Obama has tried to portray Romney as wealthy and out-of-touch with average Americans, criticizing his comments about the 47% of Americans who don’t pay income tax. “Doesn’t the president have to worry about everyone?” the ad asks. Obama has also visited factories in swing states such as Wisconsin, Virginia and Ohio, saying the country has “come a long way” from when he took office.

A poll from the Public Religion Research Institute indicates that Romney has a commanding lead among working-class voters, primarily because of his support in the South.

In other regions, support is more evenly divided, with 42% of white working-class Americans in the Northeast supporting Romney and 38% backing Obama, and 36% in the Midwest backing Romney to Obama’s 44% support.

Still, economists say that manufacturing is likely to become sluggish this fall as orders from Europe slow down. Manufacturing jobs fell by 30,000 in the third quarter of the year, according to Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

That potentially could be a problem for Obama among some working-class voters in manufacturing-heavy states such as Ohio, where he has enjoyed a significant lead in polls.

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alana.semuels@latimes.com
Twitter.com @AlanaSemuels

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