An overwhelming majority of Americans agree on one thing: Economic issues — unemployment and jobs, the federal budget deficit, government spending — make up the nation's most important problem. Some 73 percent of the respondents in a Gallup survey in early October 2011 identified economic issues as the nation's top problem.
The economic outlook, to be sure, is troubling. Only about a quarter of the 8.8 million jobs lost during the recession have been recovered. Millions of Americans have been out of work for months, with older workers staying out of work the longest. A year before the 2012 presidential election, according to one report, nearly 29 percent of all residential mortgages are "underwater," with homeowners owing more on their loans than their homes could sell for.
Meanwhile, Congress is still debating, largely along partisan lines, whether to renew a 2 percent payroll tax cut and federal extensions of unemployment benefits — both of which are scheduled to expire in January.
Little wonder that economic issues are center stage as the 2012 Republican presidential primaries approach.
AARP invited the six leading GOP candidates to address the economy and three other subjects — Social Security, Medicare and retirement security. Four of the candidates (Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Perry) accepted AARP's invitation; two (Herman Cain and Mitt Romney) declined.
Watch the jobs-and-the-economy segments of the 20-minute candidate interviews in the video player above. Dave Price of WHO-TV, the NBC affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, interviewed the candidates on Nov. 4.
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