RALEIGH — N.C. State University senior Doniece Bolds heard what she wanted to from President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Now she just hopes Congress pays attention.
Bolds, 22, of New Bern, listened to Obama talk about his $450 billion jobs bill on her own campus. The textile engineering major agrees the wealthy should pay more in taxes and that the middle class needs more help. "It doesn't make sense to take from the poor and give to the rich," she said.
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Obama made his case for his jobs bill before an enthusiastic crowd of 9,300 people, many of them college students. Early on, Obama told them it was OK to sit down and at one point, a voice yelled out: "I love you, Barack."
"I love you back," the president replied, applause almost drowning out the rest of his words.
"If you love me, you got to help me pass this bill," Obama said. "It starts with your help.
Obama pushed the bill that is facing a hostile Republican Congress just three months after his last visit to North Carolina, when he also talked about job creation. Since then, North Carolina's overall economy has worsened, with unemployment edging into double digits, state government shedding thousands of jobs and news that Charlotte-based
Bank of America has plans to lay off 30,000 workers.
But the state makes more than economic sense as a showcase to promote the jobs bill.
His narrow victory here in 2008 made the state more important to Democratic presidential strategy than in the past, something that was surely part of the reason for addressing a rally of about 9,300 at N.C. State. Galvanizing young voters will be important if Obama hopes to win a second term, said university political scientist Andrew Taylor.
"It's interesting how our status has been elevated to battleground state when, in all reality, we still remain at the presidential level a 'lean Republican' state," Taylor said.
Only Missouri gave Obama a narrower victory than North Carolina, and he could have reached 270 electoral votes without the Tar Heel state. So he may quit courting North Carolina voters if it becomes clear they're embracing Republican presidential candidates again, Taylor said.
"If Obama feels he can win North Carolina, that the state is a very strong possibility, then I think overall that's a pretty healthy sign for him," Taylor said.
It's hard to imagine any candidate gaining traction in North Carolina without a clear message about how to help people start bringing home paychecks. When Obama visited in June, the latest unemployment rate was 9.7 percent. By July, it had crept into double digits, at 10.1 percent, for the first time since September 2010.
Perhaps more tellingly, the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center estimated at the time of Obama's last visit that the state would need 467,000 new jobs to return to where employment levels were before the Great Recession began in December 2007. That figure has since increased to 502,500, a jump of about 7.5 percent, said Edwin McLenaghan, a public policy analyst at the center.
"It's not been a good few months in North Carolina in terms of job creation, especially with the public sector job losses in June and July," he said.
Bolds, who hopes to get a job in product development, is worried about finding work. Fewer employers than ever came to a job fair last week, she said, and some said they could only afford to come to the fair or to campus for interviews.
She especially liked when Obama said more goods and products should be stamped with the words "Made in America."
"That's something you don't hear now," Bolds said. "Now it's made in China, made in Japan. It's never United States of America."
If she wants to find a job in North Carolina, Bolds is best off staying in the Triangle area. The state's unemployment pain isn't evenly distributed across the state, said N.C. State economist Mike Walden. The areas doing the best are military-dependent Fayetteville and the Triangle area around Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, with its research and science jobs.
But even the Triangle is going to suffer more than usual because of the loss of state government jobs, Walden said. Universities will be particularly hard hit, with lay-off notices expected to begin Sept. 30, he said.
"But I don't think that's a fatal blow," he said.
The Triangle area's real attraction is its educated work force and its "synergy between universities and the private sector," he said.
"We will take some lumps in the next couple of months with government cutbacks," he said. "But I think we'll rebound from that and continue to outperform the rest of the state over the next year."
North Carolina didn't take the hit from the housing bubble that others such as California and Arizona did, but it did suffer from losses in manufacturing and construction. Companies and households should start pulling out of this "balance-sheet recession" in 2012 and 2013, Walden said.
The president's jobs plan would help with that because it includes transportation and infrastructure improvements that provide jobs and improve lives, he said. Obama said the bill would create 19,000 construction jobs and 13,000 jobs for teachers, police officers and firefighters in North Carolina. It cuts payroll taxes for small businesses in half, a move that would help 170,000 small businesses in North Carolina, Obama said Wednesday.
"He's also doing it at a time when the federal government is paying real negative interest rates," McLenaghan said. "There's never been a better time for us to invest in the infrastructure of this country."
And, Bolds hinted, there's never been a better time for Republicans and Democrats to work together. She had a word of warning for both parties: She's sick of partisan politics. "The parties do need to come together and think of our future as a nation and their future as parties," she said.