Democrats' Convention To Focus On Jobs, Economy

As the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Charlotte, N.C., the economy is expected to be a central theme. The event is bookended by Monday's Labor Day celebrations and Friday's release of the latest monthly numbers on jobs.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, as you can hear from Scott's report, the economy is a top issue in this campaign.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So it's fitting that the Democratic Convention was preceded by Labor Day and will be followed by Friday's release of the latest employment numbers.

INSKEEP: NPR's Yuki Noguchi talked with voters about jobs on Labor Day.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: This year, Labor Day festivities came to Charlotte in the form of a huge street party.

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NOGUCHI: This is Carolinafest - a Labor Day effort to put some party into the party of labor. Later this week, a few blocks from here, President Obama will try to win over people like Shonn Yang, who says he's not sure who deserves his vote.

SHONN YANG: I don't really know.

NOGUCHI: You don't really know.

YANG: Yeah.

NOGUCHI: You're really undecided.

YANG: I'm still thinking - yeah, I'm still thinking about it, yeah.

NOGUCHI: Yang is a 23-year-old high school graduate who works part-time as a UPS truck loader. He says he considers himself lower middle-class and the economy is the story for people in his world.

YANG: I know a few guys that I work with, they're part-timers, and a lot of them have Bachelor degrees and it's hard for them to find jobs. It's crazy, 'cause they spent all this money going to college but they're just doing what I'm doing, and that's not good for them.

NOGUCHI: The president narrowly won North Carolina four years ago, but this year it's divided and undecided, largely because of the halting economy. This week, the Obama administration is hoping to color the state a little bluer, specifically by focusing on jobs and the economy. Ben LaBolt is the national spokesman for the Obama campaign.

BEN LABOLT: The core question voters are going to ask when they head to the polls on Election Day is who will create good-paying, sustainable jobs for the middle class.

NOGUCHI: With national unemployment at 8.3 percent, the economy is a touchy issue for the Obama campaign. Republican challenger Mitt Romney yesterday called Labor Day another day of worrying for out-of-work Americans. But LaBolt says the president is making job creation a priority.

LABOLT: The focus of our convention will lay out the vision for creating those good-paying, sustainable jobs for the middle class and building the economy from the middle class out.

NOGUCHI: Expect to hear those words - middle class - a lot this week. To understand why, consider a Washington Post-ABC News survey from last week. It showed Governor Romney had the edge on President Obama when it came to handling the economy, but Mr. Obama had the lead on understanding the middle class's financial problems. In other words, framing the economy and jobs as a middle class issue works in the president's favor. Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers, says it's no surprise to see the emphasis on the middle class.

ROSS BAKER: It's kind of - it's got mythic qualities to it.

NOGUCHI: Baker says it's like code to call yourself middle class.

BAKER: So many Americans identify with it, even though objectively they're not part of it. There are people who, you know, who are barely above the poverty level who want to see themselves as middle class. For people who are poor, it's an exalted status. For people who are a little bit self-conscious about being too prosperous, it's a safe identification.

NOGUCHI: I interviewed a restaurant manager, a pedicab driver, two entrepreneurs, a nurse and students at yesterday's Carolina Fest. Many of them describe themselves as undecided voters and all self-identified as middle class. Baker says this year the desire to be middle class dovetails with an attack line the Democrats love.

BAKER: The Obama plan is to make Mitt Romney look like Louis XVI.

JAMES JOHNSON: Get 'em right here. Rally behind the president.

NOGUCHI: Back at Carolina Fest, that's a message that resonates with James Johnson, a visitor from Ohio who's here selling Obama rally towels for $5 apiece.

JOHNSON: We know that Romney, he's a very wealthy man, where President Obama had to grow into his wealth.

NOGUCHI: Johnson says that's a message he hopes will carry his home state, as well as North Carolina. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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