ALLEN G. BREEDRALEIGH, N.C. (AP) â¿¿ In many ways, Keith Fountain's personal economic odyssey is North Carolina's. After a decade at Lucent Technologies, Fountain was making $22 an hour working in the company's warehouse in Concord, northeast of Charlotte, when he was laid off in July 2009. He used a federal retraining grant to go back to community college, but decided he'd rather be working, so he took a part-time job making sandwiches in a grocery deli to supplement his unemployment check. After two years and hundreds of applications, the 49-year-old Army veteran finally landed another manufacturing job, driving a forklift for a company that makes components for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. It paid $13.75 an hour. Since President Barack Obama took office, Fountain says he and his wife, Mary, have slipped "down toward the bottom end of the middle class." Big fall, slow recovery. Four years ago, Obama became the first Democratic presidential nominee to win North Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Pundits called the victory historic, but it came by the slimmest of margins, just 14,000 votes out of nearly 4.4 million cast. History suggests that if the economy doesn't show substantial improvement in the year before a presidential election, the incumbent loses. North Carolina's recovery from the "Great Recession" has lagged behind the nation's. Between February 2008 and February 2010, the recession's lowest point, the state shed more than 330,000 jobs. More than half were in manufacturing and construction. As of July, North Carolina was still down more than 53,000 jobs from when Obama took office, and a report from the nonprofit North Carolina Budget & Tax Center says many of those gains have been in the low-wage sector. At one point, the state's jobless rate reached 11.4 percent, making North Carolina one of only nine states where unemployment topped 11 percent. The rate is now 9.6 percent, more than a percentage point above the national average.