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Economy on Election Day: important, but not No. 1 concern

After a bitter recession, metro Atlanta has added 367,000 jobs in the past five years, including 60,300 in the 12 months.

Historically, that good news would have been an ace in the hole for incumbents as voters head to the polls on Tuesday. Elections often turn on the economy. But this one, not so much, political observers say.

The most recent Gallup survey shows economic issues are the top priority for 19 percent of registered voters. Dissatisfaction with government was picked by 27 percent of those surveyed as the most important problem the country faces.

“The economy is the second-most-important issue on the list tested among voters,” wrote Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll. “But a focus on the economy may not have the same payoff this year as in the past.”

Four years ago, 53 percent of voters said the economy mattered most.

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Despite the significant drop off, it still matters a lot.

VIDEO: More on jobs

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher has the latest on Worksource program.

Even if the economy isn’t the very top issue on voters’ minds, it is decidedly one of their key concerns. It is “extremely or very important” to 78 percent of voters, according to Gallup.

Voters tend to intensely focus on the economy in tough times when they are struggling to find work or pay their bills. That concern becomes less intense as things improve.

As with job growth, the low unemployment rate – 3.1 percent – also bespeaks good times.

Yet, a large share of the jobless have been looking at least six months for work. And the share of working-age people in the workforce is also lower than it was a few years ago – as if many people simply stopped looking for jobs.

That larger pool of potential workers could be one reason for sluggish pay growth, some economists say.

The median pay in metro Atlanta is $54,329, slightly better than the national average, according to the most recent survey by Glassdoor, a national jobs site.

But nine years into the expansion, wage growth overall has been fairly sluggish. In the past 12 months, median pay has increased just 2.3 percent. And even those gains are lost for some workers in the rising cost of living.

Inflation ran at 3.1 percent in metro Atlanta during the first half of this year and 3.4 percent during the second half of last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among the lower paid jobs are baristas, with a base pay of $23,114; restaurant cooks, with a base of $27,808; and certified nursing assistants, with a base pay of $27,034.

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