Similar developments in distress dot the lush landscape in Palm Coast, the hub of Flagler County. Once they fueled a virtuous cycle of rising property values, new projects, new residents and new jobs that made Flagler the fastest-growing county in the nation. Now they offer vivid evidence of an economy gone bad in ways that are proving difficult to repair.
Two years after the recession officially ended, the jobless rate in this county one hour south of Jacksonville was 13.8 percent in April — down from 14.5 percent in March but still the highest in Florida — and officials are at a loss for ways to turn things around.
Past economic troughs may have been characterized by old cities with idled assembly lines and abandoned factories. This one is defined by places such as Flagler where half-built subdivisions have little hope of ever being filled and thousands of carpenters, landscapers, mortgage brokers, furniture salespeople and interior designers thrown out of work have little hope of regaining their jobs.
“Flagler County is the poster child for what went right and what wrong in the economy,” said Tobin, a real estate consultant whose Web site GoToby.com tracks the local real estate market.
Reversing the economic decline fueled by the housing bust is a paramount test for President Obama as he campaigns for reelection. The president’s challenge is particularly pressing in potential swing states such as Florida, Nevada and Arizona, where stubborn joblessness and the pain from the collapse in real estate is most acute.
It is in these places where Obama will face pointed questions from voters who think the administration’s policies have done little to make things better.
Even beyond the housing-bust states, an already shaky economic recovery has shown troubling signs of weakening. The national unemployment rate notched up to 9.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday. That increase followed a string of grim economic reports of slowing auto sales, declining home prices and tighter consumer spending.
Political opponents view Obama’s record on the economy as a weak point. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney officially launched his bid for the Republican presidential nomination last week with a stinging critique of the president’s economic stewardship.
“Barack Obama has failed America,” he said.
Meanwhile, the political discussion in Washington is not about stimulus but about limiting government spending, which the president’s political opponents see as the best way to mend the economy in the long term.