WASHINGTON — Unemployment is a key issue in the U.S. presidential election, and on Friday the government publishes the last official jobless rate before voters go to the polls on November 6. More than 12 million Americans are out of work, another eight million have found only part-time jobs, and still others have stopped searching for work. There are different opinions about the job situation from voters in North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington, D.C.
Jobless Americans are concerned about the high unemployment rate.
"If Mitt Romney gets into office he is going to have to get these young black men and old black men jobs,” said Jeff Smith, who currently is unemployed.
Larry Guinn, a small business owner, said economic uncertainty makes him reluctant to hire new workers.
“I just see more and more unemployment in the country, and that’s not good for America," said Guinn.
Some Ohio voters, including Catholic priest Joseph Rudjak, say jobs are available.
"I don’t see people here terribly disturbed by the unemployment rate. There are opportunities for simple jobs, low-paying jobs,” said Rudjak.
Ohio businessman Gus Hoyes said the job market is getting better, but he's not sure if President Barack Obama should get credit for the change.
“There is a positive upflow. Is that the result of what Obama has done over the past four years? For me that is hard to determine if that is something that has been caused by his leadership,” said Hoyes.
Voters will look more at the unemployment trend rather than at the exact level, says University of Mary Washington political scientist Chad Murphy.
“What’s important is the trend," he said. "Do you feel like things have gotten better for you?”
That’s why the president says the economy was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month when he took office, but now is gaining jobs.
Rival Mitt Romney said the recovery is weak and blames Obama’s economic policies.
Being jobless at a time of high unemployment makes people more likely to vote, said Princeton University's Matthew Incantalupo.
“Experiencing job loss, going through unemployment, is actually a mobilizing phenomenon. Individuals who experience unemployment when and where the unemployment rate is high, are more likely to vote than people who had not gone through job loss," he said.
High unemployment usually is a big problem for the incumbent, Incantalupo said, but that may be softened in this case because the jobless are disproportionately young or members of minority groups, and they tend to be Obama supporters.
Recent data showing a slight drop in the jobless numbers brought allegations that government officials had manipulated the data to help Obama.
Tracking unemployment is an inexact science, said University of Michigan researcher Don Grimes.
“I don’t believe that there was any indication that these numbers, while unusual, were statistically not valid," he said.
Grimes said news stories and politicians make too big a deal of slight changes in the unemployment numbers, which he said probably do not show much actual change in the economy.