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Thursday, October 29, 1998 Published at 09:06 GMT

It's still the economy, stupid

Midwestern cities like Detroit suffered greatly during the early 80s

In the Rustbelt, the upper mid-western United States, they remember the hard times of the early 1980s when the glittering fortunes of industrial America faded.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]The residents of the Rustbelt, still have a lingering feeling of economic uncertainty. For them - as it was for President Clinton in 1992 - it's still the economy, stupid. Economic issues will influence their votes in the mid-term elections.

Take Dwight Lawler. Like 30,000 others in Flint, Michigan, Mr Lawler works for General Motors. This is a tough industrial town. Its fortunes mirror the rest of the country.

Economic issues drive voters
"We've enjoying record low unemployment. A record number of new jobs have been created. The stock market is up. People are working good. Those are the issues that count with most of us that aren't out there being vocal and making judgements on the president's personal behaviour," Mr Lawler said.

Mr Lawler's son Mark drives trucks for GM - it's a secure job. Life is not like it was before when one in four Flint residents was out of work.

"Christine and I both moved out of state in '80s because of the slowdown around the Flint. We moved back because this is our hometown, and now we enjoy quite a bit what we didn't have 10 years ago," Mark Lawler said.

A red brick road runs through the heart of downtown Flint, what used to be the commercial centre. But the scars of the recession - boarded up windows and shuttered shops - are still here.

[ image: General Motors shed 50,000 jobs in the 70s and 80s]
General Motors shed 50,000 jobs in the 70s and 80s
The area got the name Rustbelt in the 1970s and 80s when GM eliminated 50,000 jobs. It's an image the head of the Chamber of Commerce Larry Ford is keen to shake off.

"Psychologically, it's an absolute blow. Everyone in the whole country and, in large measure, around the world viewed Flint, Michigan, as a dried up prune. [They think] General Motors have left us. Well, in fact, they have not. 33,000 jobs is considerable," Mr Ford said.

"Frankly, the efforts of our economic development folks have caused us to diversify ourselves in such a manner, we have literally 5,000 more jobs in this community than during the heyday of GM," he added.

But in a barbershop in the rough part of town, you have to ring the bell to get in through the locked door. Here, they are concerned all of the new jobs are in the service industry. All the positive talk about the future is tinged with uncertainty.

"The economy is doing all right, right now, but as far as the future, I don't think that here in this area it's going to be that good because we have a couple plants that will be leaving in the near future," said one customer.

Dwight Lawler will vote solidly Democrat in the elections next week. For him, the morality of the White House is not the issue. It's President Clinton's policies that count. Those have brought him nothing but prosperity.

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