The U.S. unemployment rate rose to its highest level in five years last month with 84,000 more people out of work. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the economy is a major issue for voters in the last months of campaigning for U.S. legislative and presidential elections.

White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino says President Bush is disappointed by the sharp rise in the U.S. unemployment rate to 6.1 percent. "There is no question that the labor market is not as strong as we would like, and these were disappointing numbers. We want to see the economy return to job growth and we understand that this is a difficult time for many Americans. We want everyone who wants to work to be able to find a job."

The Labor Department says August was the eighth consecutive month of U.S. job losses bringing this year's total so far to more than 600,000 jobs lost. That sent the misery index, which adds unemployment to inflation, to its highest level since 1991.

Perino says the economy is quite resilient despite high energy prices and falling home values. She says positive productivity and export numbers show signs of growth.

The U.S. Mortgage Bankers Association says Americans are defaulting on home loans at the fastest rate in almost three decades.

Public opinion polls show nearly half of Americans believe the economy is the biggest issue in this year's election. That is more than twice the number of voters who say the most important issue is the war in Iraq or high gas prices.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain says a victory by his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, will hurt the economy. The McCain campaign is running a commercial portraying Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal.

"Obama has got plans, big plans, for your money: $853 billion in new government programs, a 23 percent increase in the size of government, massive spending that will lead to even higher budget deficits, piling more debt on the backs of your children and grandchildren. Even Obama's hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, says Obama has no interest in eliminating deficit spending. They're right. So no wonder Obama wants to raise taxes on your income, your electric bills, even your life savings. Ready to tax, ready to spend, not ready to lead. That's the real Obama. I'm John McCain, and I approve this message," he said.

With nearly two-thirds of Americans disapproving of the president's handling of the economy, the Obama campaign is trying to link McCain with the president in a commercial that lays out Obama's economic plan.

"He's practicing the politics of the past. John McCain: his attacks on Barack Obama not true, false, baloney, the low road, baseless. John McCain: same old politics, same failed policies. Barack Obama supports a $1,000 middle class tax cut, an energy plan that takes on oil companies, develops alternative fuels, and breaks the grip of foreign oil. That's change we can believe in. I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message," he said.

Obama says August job loses show what is at stake in this election and McCain is planning to manage the economy the same way President Bush has for nearly eight years.

Accepting his party's nomination Thursday evening, McCain says Obama intends to raise taxes, which will hurt the economy and job growth.