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American Voters Rate Economy, Jobs as Major Concerns

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Americans will go to the polls November 2nd to select all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and more than one third of the 100-member Senate.   In survey after survey, Americans rate the economy as their top concern.  Voters say they are looking for candidates who will spur job creation and restore prosperity.  

With the national unemployment rate at 9.6 percent, and California's nearly three points higher, voters say Americans need jobs.

In California's senate election, incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer says job creation is the most important task of government.  She hopes to promote environmentally friendly business, using tax incentives.  Republican challenger Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, wants to cut taxes and slash government spending and allow the private sector to create jobs.  

The same debate is taking place in the governor's race, where the former eBay chief executive, Republican Meg Whitman, faces Democrat, and former governor, Jerry Brown.

"We have a very clear contrast between my opponent, Meg Whitman, and myself," Brown said.

"I am ready to give Jerry Brown the hardest and toughest fight he has seen in his 40 years in politics," Whitman replied.

In 2007, mortgage defaults around the country sparked a crash in the high-risk sub-prime mortgage market, creating the worst recession in 70 years.  In the city of Stockton, unemployment has reached 17 percent, and in a neighborhood on the outskirts of town, called Weston Ranch, almost one-third of homeowners are in default on their mortgage.

The crash of the housing market caused the spike in unemployment, and the area has not recovered, says economist Jeff Michael of the University of the Pacific.

"We have a homebuilding industry and a construction and development industry that was a major employer in this area," he said. "It is down by 90 percent.  It is virtually shut down on its back.  And that has had big impacts on state and local tax revenues, huge employment impacts, and all those impacts have just cascaded through the economy."

In 2008, the federal government stepped in to offer some help.  Congress approved a bailout of failing mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But real estate expert John Knight of the University of the Pacific says local homeowners remain angry.

"You have the homeowners who acted responsibly and bought homes that they could afford angry that they are bailing out those that perhaps were not as prudent in their home purchases," he said. "And you have the homeowners who have expected some sort of relief, some sort of help in the form of a mortgage modification not being helped as much as was expected."

In San Francisco, non-government organizations such as Catholic Charities use private funds and government grants to help the unemployed, offering short term housing and arranging job training.  A woman, holding her infant, is enrolled in a training program and gets some encouragement from the program director. "Good for you.  It is one step at a time," she said.

Residents of this facility receive meals and other support.

The charity also operates a low-income housing unit in central San Francisco, where it offers subsidized rent and programs that include after-school care for children.  Chris Callandrillo of Catholic Charities worries that the bad economy will lead to cuts in public spending.

"Because programs are cut, funding is cut for programs that support people, low-income families, that support families looking for jobs, looking for job training, that support child care for families that are out working, and all these things are being impacted by the economy," said Callandrillo.

In California, Democrats outnumber Republicans, with an edge of 44 to 31 percent.  But one in five of the state's voters is independent, and Mark Baldassare of the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California says these voters could sway the election.

"The independents will be listening very closely to solutions, to actual solutions, not just criticisms, and there are plenty of criticisms about the way things are and what has been done so far that has not been successful, but does anybody have any good ideas about what to do next?  So far, they have not heard that," he said.

Analysts say voters are worried and angry, which could lead to a power shift in the Democratic-controlled House or Senate.  A new national poll by the Pew Center for the People and the Press found that independent voters who are likely to vote in the mid-term election favor Republicans.  In the presidential election in 2008, they swung toward the Democrats and helped elect President Barack Obama.

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