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Assessing Obama's promises of jobs in a hub of manufacturing

All of those plans and efforts have not been enough to alter the bleak employment picture.

Effect of auto bailouts

When candidate Obama visited Lorain County, the jobless rate here was 6.9 percent. By the time he took office, it was up to 7.9 percent. It reached a high of 11.5 percent last summer, before retreating to the current level of 9.5 percent.

The high jobless rate is hurting many businesses that have never recovered from the relentless wave of plant closures, feeding into a downward cycle.

Jim Bodnar, president of Market Square Home Furnishings, started in the waterbed business in 1975. He expanded into all manner of furniture and eventually had three stores. But as the plants have closed, his business has dwindled. He once employed 16 people; now he has five workers. He once offered them health-care coverage, but no longer.

The American-made furniture that once filled his showrooms has given way to products made in Vietnam, Indonesia and China. And the easy credit that for a long time propped up many of his customers is getting harder to come by.

"The last good run we had in my place was when the stimulus checks went out in 2008," Bodnar said. "People can't get financing right now."

It is a common complaint. Obama received plaudits in this area for championing the controversial multibillion-dollar bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler. The bailouts no doubt saved jobs across the country, but businesspeople here say those efforts are being undercut by other forces.

Anthony B. Giardini, chairman of the Lorain County Democratic Party and a lawyer who represents auto dealers, said many domestic auto dealers are having trouble getting loans to finance their inventory. It is not that the banks don't have money, he said. It is just that they do not see American cars as a safe bet. "This is a problem," he said. "A huge problem."

The auto bailout itself was problematic, Giardini said, as it led to the elimination of 1,900 General Motors and Chrysler dealers, including 120 in Ohio -- five in Lorain County. "That was a mistake the administration made, thinking fewer dealers would help the manufacturers. It is just the opposite," Giardini said. "Multiply each of those dealerships by about 30, that's how many jobs you are talking about. Good jobs."

Overseas labor

Other job losses seem far beyond the president's ability to prevent. In nearby Brooklyn, Ohio, a garment factory that employs 300 union workers to make high-end Hugo Boss suits plans to close in April, probably moving to Eastern Europe, where wages are lower.

"We are working hard, struggling to survive," said Wanda Navarro, 44, who has worked at the plant for 10 years and makes $11.85 an hour, plus benefits. "I don't know how I'll pay for my house if they go through with this."

As Obama discusses the nation's economy, he often stresses that expanding health-care coverage and educational opportunities and embracing clean energy are essential to job growth.

But in the short run, some of his policies could cost existing jobs, especially health-care reform, if it is enacted. One of the few large businesses that has prospered in Lorain County in recent years has been Invacare, a maker of home medical devices, such as walkers and wheelchairs.

The company has 1,300 employees in Lorain County but has stopped hiring in anticipation of a tax on medical devices that was proposed to help pay for the president's health-care reform plan.

A. Malachi Mixon III, who led a group of investors who bought the company from Johnson & Johnson in 1979, said the tax would cost his business $15 million a year -- as much as he spends on research and development. If a tax were enacted, he said, he would seriously consider moving jobs to his factories in China and Mexico.

"I'm not making money in my Lorain plant now," said Mixon, who has suspended contributions to the company 401(k), and frozen executive salaries in anticipation of the tax. That, in turn, has left many of his employees nervous.

"This tax will ultimately result in the loss of company revenue/profits, which will in turn, result in the loss of jobs for Invacare and Lorain County," read an e-mail sent to county Democratic Party officials in advance of Obama's visit by Joe Simonetti, who identified himself as a company employee. "I, personally, would rather pay more in taxes than to have Invacare pay the tax, just so I can keep my job."


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