For Pa. voters, economy is Job 1

As the candidates canvass the state, working people talk about rising fuel costs and concerns about their jobs.

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By Tami Luhby, senior writer

Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama spelled out his economic plan at a town hall gathering at Wilkes University.
Sen. Hillary Clinton told supporters about her plan to get economy working for middle-class.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. ( -- Holly McCarthy, a press worker at Offset Paperback Manufacturers, lives from paycheck to paycheck. That's getting harder to do as she finds herself shelling out more for gas and groceries.

"My paycheck isn't going up but everything else is, especially gas," said McCarthy, 43, who has started going to thrift shops, clipping coupons and buying only what's on sale at the supermarket to make ends meet.

The weakening economy is on the minds of many Pennsylvania residents as they prepare for the Democratic primary on April 22. And it's at the top of the agenda for Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as they step up their campaigning across the state.

McCarthy was one of hundreds of people who listened to Obama lay out his plan to revive the economy at a town hall gathering at Wilkes University on Tuesday. A few hours later, Clinton told supporters just blocks away about her proposals to get the economy working again for the middle class.

Each senator talked of tax cuts for the middle class to help offset the rising cost of health insurance, college tuition and staples such as food and fuel. To cheering crowds, they spoke of ending subsidies for oil companies and funneling money into alternative energies to curb America's dependence on foreign oil. And they vowed to cover those without health insurance with a plan similar the one offered by Congress.

But the energetic audiences in Wilkes-Barre - a city of about 45,000 in northeastern Pennsylvania that has seen many local manufacturing jobs shipped overseas - saved their loudest applause when the candidates said they would curtail tax breaks for companies that outsource abroad.

Most of those interviewed at the rallies weren't familiar with the details of the senators' economic proposals. But that didn't matter, as many had already made up their minds who to vote for.

Job 1: More jobs

Garnetta Barrett-Womack came to the Obama rally to learn more about how he would bring manufacturing jobs back the northeastern Pennsylvania and to the United States. The retired accountant is concerned about Americans who can't find work locally.

"A lot of people in the United States went to trade schools and their talents need to be utilized," said Barrett-Womack, 62, a Wilkes-Barre resident.

How to improve job prospects, especially for recent college graduates, was also a hot topic among those at the Clinton rally, held at King's College.

As she looks for work, Wilkes-Barre resident Alicia Marinelli, 24, must struggle with a $150 monthly tab on her undergraduate debt - her grad school payments haven't kicked in yet - and rising gas prices. She said it's tough to find employment these days.

"Kids graduating college expect to get jobs but they just aren't there," said Marinelli, who interns with the New York Knicks and hopes for a career in sports management. "Students are settling instead of getting their choice so they can pay for healthcare and student loans."

Bundling up against the cold

Employed or not, many at the town hall meetings said the weakening economy has forced them to cut back on their spending. Some talked of running all their errands on one trip or turning their thermostat down at home to save on energy costs.

"I just wear heavier clothing," said Florence McCabe, 62, a retired teacher who now sets her thermostat to 69 degrees instead of 73 degrees. McCabe, a Wilkes-Barre resident, attended the Obama rally.

David Scott, meanwhile, is being squeezed on both ends. With customers spending less at the restaurant where he waits tables, he's seen his income go down to about $450 a week, from $600. That means the King's College junior has to cut out some entertainment. He probably won't get to join his buddies on road trips to Philadelphia Phillies games this season.

"I doubt I'll go to any this year because money is so tight," Scott, 21, said as he waited for Clinton to speak. To top of page

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