COLUMBUS (AP) -- Ask politician, pundit and voter alike and they will tell you the same thing: The November election is about jobs.
Job growth is both a key economic indicator and an easy issue for politicians to talk about when campaigning. Yet when the claims of Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald conflict, Ohioans can be left baffled.
A look at some of the facts about Ohio jobs and the politics behind the debate:
THE NUMBERS: Ohio's nonfarm employment was more than 5.3 million in June. That marked a gain of 243,900 since Kasich succeeded Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in January 2011. Private employment also has risen, and new job starts, another important gauge of an economy's health, rose 1,270 from the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of this year.
Ohio's unemployment rate has fallen steadily since 2010, from 10.6 percent in January 2010 to 5.5 percent in May and June, the lowest rate since before the recession. The private sector has led the growth. Overall government employment fell from January 2011 to June, led by nearly 25,000 jobs lost in local government. Median incomes in Ohio have fallen about $7,000 over the past decade.
THE CONTEXT: Kasich took Ohio's helm in the wake of a national recession. From January 2007 to January 2010, Ohio had lost 430,000 jobs. Federal labor statistics show the downward trend had begun to reverse as Strickland and Kasich were facing off for governor in 2010. Four years out, the nation and about a third of individual states have fully recovered jobs lost during the recession; Ohio has recovered about 6 in 10 jobs.
It's good to be aware that the unemployment rate is in some ways a fickle statistic. It measures the percentage of Ohioans who say they are jobless and looking, so the rate can improve when people are discouraged and give up job-hunting, or it can appear worse when optimism abounds and previously discouraged workers start to try to re-enter the workforce.
THE CAMPAIGNS: Kasich points to tax changes and budget cuts as helping stimulate Ohio's economy. He frequently highlights not only newly added jobs but those the administration prevented from leaving the state or those relocated within the state.
FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, focuses his jobs talk on the impact of state budget cuts on schools and other local government employers. It is a natural strategy for two reasons: the job losses experienced by the sector; and Kasich's perceived vulnerability among unionized police, firefighters and teachers who remember the collective bargaining fight of 2011. He also points to declines in Ohio's median incomes, which Kasich notes are improving faster than the nation as a whole.