EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN has sent dozens of reporters, producers, conntributors and correspondents to the key battleground states to cover the final days of the 2012 election. Here is a brief report from one team:
(CNN) - All across Florida, we're hearing the same refrain on the Battle Ground Bus Tour. Yes, the economy is starting to improve – but it's not happening fast enough.
The key question for swing voters is whether the President Obama has earned more time to implement a real recovery or whether it's time to hire a businessman like Mitt Romney to do the job.
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Politics and economics intersect, especially in the final weeks of a presidential election. And the unemployment numbers along the pivotal I-4 corridor are a microcosm of the larger issues in this state.
Unemployment here in the Orlando area is 8% – just above the national average and equivalent to where things were when President Obama took office in January of 2009. But lack of progress only tells part of the story – unemployment rose to above 12% by March of 2010 and stayed in the low double digits for over a year. So we have climbed out of the trough. But because every voter's sense of the economy is understandably subjective – related to whether they have a good job right now – Ali Velshi and I spoke to Carl Brown, Professor of Economics at Florida Southern College. He's an expert on the local economy across the I-4 Corridor, and here is part of what he said.
"The Florida economy is in a very slow recovery from a very steep economic recession," Brown explains. "Retail sales dropped about 20%. Employment dropped about five and a half percent and building permits fell by 90%. Actually the building permits began to fall off in 2006. I think the recession here locally probably began a few months before the national recession did and it's been steeper because of the importance of housing in the local economy."
I think the reason you're seeing economic recovery here is because of the demographics," Professor Brown continues. "Population growth is starting back up again. Retail sales are back up again. Employment's bottomed out. Home prices are up 3% in September from where they were a year ago."
Now some new housing developments in the Orlando area are selling out on spec. So the million dollar question of this election is whether President Obama gets some credit for the rebound.
"It depends on who you talk to, obviously," Professor Brown says sensibly. "I think that the policies that were enacted in terms of fiscal policy were absolutely necessary. I think that if those policies had not taken place, we'd be in much tougher circumstances than we are now. Now of course the criticism would be that the recovery has not been as rapid as it should have been. But if you look at what's happening in the rest of the world the United States is doing pretty well right now."