- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) — Hoping to move Pennsylvania into his win column in this year’s election, President Bush traveled to the state for the 26th time yesterday, stopping at an affordable-housing development to tout homeownership — a bright spot in the economy.

About 68 percent of Americans own their homes, and that record high fits well into Mr. Bush’s domestic agenda. It is part of his concept of an “ownership society,” which promotes the idea of Americans owning their homes and owning and managing their health care and retirement plans, small businesses and the like.

“Homeownership is at the highest rate ever,” Mr. Bush said during a conversation with local residents. “That means that more people than ever in our history are able to say, ‘I own something.’”

Mr. Bush noted a positive economic report yesterday that showed industrial production rose by a strong 0.7 percent in February.

“The manufacturing report today was very positive, another indication that the economy is strengthening,” he said. “There are still people looking for work — make no mistake about it, but it’s getting better. Interest rates are low, which is important if you’re a first-time home buyer. Inflation is down, which is important.”

The economy will get more good news today. The quarterly hiring survey by Manpower Inc. will indicate that roughly one in four employers plan to add workers in the second quarter of the year to meet increased demand for products or services, the best figure since the first quarter of 2001.

“Someone looking for a job no doubt will have an easier time now than in recent memory, than in the past two or three years,” said Jeffrey Joerres, Manpower’s chief executive officer and chairman.

The survey found 28 percent of companies expect to hire more people in the second quarter, while 6 percent intend to cut jobs.

Mr. Bush stopped for about 10 minutes at the home of Pearl Cerdan, a new homeowner in a 10-unit affordable-housing development about 10 miles west of Philadelphia. Then he visited a YMCA to have a discussion about homeownership.

The visit to Pennsylvania was equally about politics.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, who traveled with Mr. Bush on Air Force One, said, “His message today is designed to appeal to moderates and independents and Democrats.”

Mr. Specter said Mr. Bush has “laid down a marker that he’s going to fight for Pennsylvania.”

Mr. Bush has been promoting initiatives to close the gap between white and minority homeownership. Although more than 75 percent of white Americans owned their homes in the fourth quarter of 2003, according to the Census Bureau, the rate among minority groups was 49 percent or lower.

In December, Mr. Bush signed the American Dream Down Payment Act. The act is designed to help families that can afford monthly mortgage payments but not the down payment or closing costs associated with buying a house. The legislation authorizes $200 million a year in down-payment assistance to at least 40,000 low-income families.

Mr. Bush, who lost Pennsylvania to Al Gore in 2000 — 50.6 percent to 46.4 percent — badly wants to win it this year.

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