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How will we handle the slowdown?

The economy is the biggest concern for North Carolina voters.

Those like Rick Long of Wake Forest wonder how much longer the slowdown will persist and how their families will manage if it worsens. Others already struggle to make ends meet, hold onto their homes or keep their jobs.

Citizens want fixes for rising energy prices, increasing joblessness and mounting foreclosures. And they want to hear solutions from the candidates.

Today's section outlines the candidates' proposals and their track records. We've focused on presidential, gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates in competitive primary races. But first, here's a closer look at economic issues facing North Carolina and the nation.

Jobs

80,000

The number of jobs by which the U.S. economy shrank in March. The U.S. jobless rate was 5.1 percent.

The labor market is limping. For three months, employers have shed jobs, a sign that recession might already be upon us.

The North Carolina economy has fared better than the nation overall. In the 12-month period that ended in February, the most recent data available, established businesses added more jobs here than all other states except two.

But that wasn't enough to offset declines among newer businesses or to keep pace with rising population. The state unemployment rate jumped to 5 percent in February, the highest in two years.

Wages

3.3%

Annual increase in the N.C. average wage as of September

Talk to North Carolina families, and they'll tell you that after job security, one of their biggest job-related concerns is wages.

Many say their incomes are not keeping pace. A shift in the types of jobs is partly responsible. North Carolina has lost more than 250,000 factory jobs this decade, and many displaced workers have turned to the service sector. Those jobs often don't pay as well.

As of September, the most recent data, the average N.C. worker earned $37,388 annually.

Gas and milk

$3.33

Average price of regular, unleaded gas in the state. A year ago, it was $2.77.

$3.87

Average U.S. price for a gallon of milk. A year ago, it was $3.08.

Consumers feel pinched because the costs of living -- especially for everyday goods -- are rising.

A gallon of regular gas in North Carolina is 20 percent more than a year ago. Similar increases have rippled through the economy and pushed up prices for other goods.

Grain prices have risen to records. A loaf of bread costs 13 percent more than a year ago.

Housing market

14,922

Number of N.C. foreclosure cases in the first three months of the year

North Carolina has not suffered as much as some places, but pain exists. The number of foreclosure cases statewide in the first quarter increased 18 percent compared with the same time in 2007.

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