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Better Off 4 Years Later? A Mixed Bag Of Answers



Peppe Smith's index for economic recovery: the party calendar at her bowling alley.

Four years ago, high-end children's birthday parties were a rarity at Camelot Lanes in Boardman, Ohio. Now, there are a few every weekend.

Smith sees positive signs all around her suburban Youngstown community: Farmers buying tractors. Women purchasing expensive sewing machines. A doughnut shop under construction. Vacant stores filling with businesses. An expanding steel pipe mill. And more bowling balls thundering down the lanes.

"I cannot deny that I am better off than I was four years ago," she declares, then pointedly adds: "I do not attribute that to the president."

Smith credits the resurgence in the area to a natural gas-drilling boom that could create tens of thousands of jobs and bring billions of dollars in investments. It's a dramatic change for Youngstown, the archetypal Rust Belt city, whose shuttered steel mills have long served as a bleak reminder of the decline of America's manufacturing might.

Since Youngstown was struggling before the recession, Smith says, its decline wasn't as steep during the downturn.

"We didn't have the go, go, go," she says, "so we didn't have the fall, fall, fall "

But crews involved in the natural gas exploration are boosting her business, along with workers from the nearby General Motors' Lordstown plant, a major beneficiary of the auto bailout. Since its restructuring, GM has added a third shift there to produce the Chevy Cruze.

Despite the bailout's benefits, Smith is no fan. Ford, she says, handled its own financial troubles on its own. "It makes you want to buy a Ford," she says. "GM should take care of its own problems."

Smith believes the Democratic Party approach is "socialistic," creating big government, with people becoming too dependent on "handouts."

"You look at the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Obamas, they always run their campaigns on volumes of people who will need government help," she says. "People make fun of the fact that Republicans have assets and want to run government like business."

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