WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's (search) campaign issued a report Monday that says the middle class is still struggling under lower incomes, debt and higher household costs despite recent job growth.
With President Bush (search) touting nearly 1.2 million jobs created this year, Kerry will try to blunt his rival's good news by focusing over the next two weeks on economic problems affecting families, beginning with stops in New Jersey, Ohio and Michigan.
Bush's re-election campaign said the economy is growing, and that Kerry chooses to focus on the negative in a "misery tour." Bush is running a television ad that makes the same point and says of Kerry: "Pessimism never created a job."
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said the economy and the manufacturing sector (search) are growing at the fastest rates in 20 years and home ownership is at a record high. But economic numbers can be sliced different ways, and the Kerry campaign is focusing on the 1.6 million households that filed for bankruptcy (search) last year; increasing costs for health insurance, child care, gas and tuition; and overall job losses.
Despite the recent hiring spree, a net of 1.2 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office in January 2001. The Kerry campaign report says Bush has the worst jobs record of any president who has run for re-election in nearly 60 years.
Kerry economic adviser Gene Sperling said it will take time for the economy to recover after months of sustained job losses early in the Bush administration.
"If you get D-minuses for three and a half years in college, one semester with a B-minus doesn't put you on the honor roll," Sperling said. "And our economy does not recover after three and a half extremely weak years of job creation with just a few positive months."
Kerry's focus on the economy comes as the administration prepares for the June 30 transfer of limited political power in Iraq (search). But Kerry strategist Tad Devine said voters will continue to focus on the economy.
The Kerry campaign report says the new jobs that have been created since January pay less than those lost since Bush took office. Bush's campaign says Kerry's analysis is flawed.
"John Kerry is traveling the country delivering a message of gloom and doom and filled with pessimism that is completely disconnected with reality," Schmidt said.
Bush's campaign cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (search) figures showing the average salary for non-supervisory workers at $15.64 an hour.
But the bureau also reports that a bulk of the new jobs — 978,000 — come from the private services sector, where the average hourly salary is $15.24. Of the sector's professional and businesses services jobs created in May, nearly half are temporary help, the bureau said.