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Nevadans Watch Obama With Low Expectations


Throughout today's program we're hearing responses to the president's speech and we go next to Nevada, where people understand the economic stakes because it has the nation's highest unemployment rate.

NPR's Ari Shapiro watched the speech with workers in Las Vegas.

ARI SHAPIRO: In the air conditioned comfort of The Beat coffee house, you would never know that it's near 100 degrees outside, about half a dozen people are here to watch the president speak. They all have jobs, but the unemployment crisis is close enough to touch each one of them.

Craig Palacios is an architect.

Mr. CRAIG PALACIOS (Architect): Almost everybody that I know has taken pay cuts in the last three years.

SHAPIRO: Chrissy Danger works for the website Zappos.

Ms. CHRISSY DANGER: My family - I'm from Michigan, and my parents live in a town that is literally dying.

SHAPIRO: Sharon Cornthwaite(ph) teaches special education.

Ms. SHARON CORNTHWAITE (Teacher): You know, as a teacher I see kids all day every day whose families are in terrible straits, lost their jobs, lost their homes, lost everything.

SHAPIRO: Before the speech began, I asked for a show of hands, how many people believe President Obama has the ability to reduce unemployment in America. So far we have one hand out of six. That's not a very good showing.

Sharon Cornthwaite, the teacher, says it depends on what kinds of jobs you're talking about.

Ms. CORNTHWAITE: Government jobs, I'm sure he'll be able to do that. If you're talking about creating jobs in the private sector, not so much.

SHAPIRO: Chrissy Danger agrees.

Ms. DANGER: You know, I think it's more personal responsibility rather than being like, wow, I hope Obama waves his magic wand today.

SHAPIRO: Economists generally agree that government policies can help the private sector create good long-term jobs, but after four years in the economic doldrums, this crowd is disillusioned. Despite that skepticism, this is a group that generally feels warmly towards President Obama, three of them voted for him, one voted for McCain, and two didn't vote at all.

When the president took the lectern, they listened to what he had to say, and 45 minutes later - now having heard the speech, show of hands? President Obama failed to convince most of this group that the American Jobs Act would create good long-term American jobs even if the bill passes.

Craig Palacios, the architect, says the tax incentive to hire new workers is a nice perk, but he's not sure how much it'll ultimately do.

Mr. PALACIOS: I'm at a position right now where I'm just about to hire people, so, no, I don't think that a tax incentive would ever make you need to hire somebody. You know, working 90 hours a week is what makes you need to hire somebody.

SHAPIRO: Chrissy Danger is dubious that the tax incentives would even materialize.

Ms. DANGER: I'll believe it when Jennifer gets a check in the mail.

SHAPIRO: Jennifer Cornthwaite, small business owner, are you expecting a check in the mail if this passes?

Ms. JENNIFER CORNTHWAITE (Small business owner): No. I mean, of course not. There'll be some other check that I have to write.

SHAPIRO: Jennifer Cornthwaite opened this coffee shop a year and a half ago. She's a died in the wool Democrat. Her mother-in-law, Sharon Cornthwaite has been active in conservative politics.

Ms. SHARON CORNTHWAITE: Frankly, I think it was a campaign speech. I think he's running for reelection and, you know, I don't blame him. I mean, that's what they do.

SHAPIRO: Attorney David Figler was disappointed with the speech for the opposite reason. He says there was nothing visionary about it. Many of the ideas originated with Republicans, and Figler expects that the GOP will block the bill anyway.

Mr. DAVID FIGLER (Attorney): What's not gonna happen is Republicans saying, okay, let's all pass this bill for the president. If it doesn't succeed, then we'll use that as political capital to defeat him in 2012. Instead what they're going to say is, we're not gonna give him anything.

SHAPIRO: Ultimately, this crowd in Las Vegas thinks politicians in Washington just don't understand what the unemployment crisis means to real people.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: Do they know what it's like to not have gas to put in your car. It's just one of those things where...

UNKNOWN MALE: To not get to your job interview because you can't afford...

UNKNOWN FEMALE: Because you can't get there.

UNKNOWN MALE: ...the bus.

SHAPIRO: These folks are not in that situation now, but they fear they could be someday, and they say if that happens, they won't count on a government safety net to catch them.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.