McCain was responding to a report showing widespread job losses amid the housing and credit crisis. The Labor Department said employers cut jobs by 63,000 in February, the most in five years.
"I think the fact of the matter is, many American families are hurting very badly, particularly those in states like Ohio, Michigan, parts of Illinois, those states that really relied on manufacturing jobs and saw those jobs leave," McCain told employees of Chick-fil-A Inc. at a town hall-style meeting in Atlanta.
"And we as a nation have not done enough to help those workers find new employment, new training, new education," McCain said.
The Arizona senator said President Bush's tax cuts, passed by Congress over McCain's objections, should be made permanent so that families and companies do not see tax increases when the cuts expire in 2010. And he called for slashing corporate taxes and repealing the alternative minimum tax, which was originally aimed at the wealthy but now threatens to hit millions in the middle class unless Congress continues to provide annual adjustments to it.
McCain usually talks about terrorism and the war in Iraq as the country's foremost concern, saying, "We face a transcendent challenge of radical Islamic extremism."
Asked Friday what issue he considers most important, McCain answered that it was the economy.
"I think it's pretty obvious the economy is on most people's minds now and is clearly the greatest challenge that we face; a subset of that is health care," McCain said.
While he acknowledged he is probably better versed on national security, McCain told reporters afterward, "I am sufficiently proficient" on the economy.
"I've been involved in economic issues affecting this country for the last 25 years," McCain said. "Of course I am probably better-versed on national security issues, certainly far more than any of my potential two opponents."
Also on Friday, McCain showed a flash of temper when he got involved in a testy exchange with a New York Times reporter who asked the Arizona senator whether he had spoken to Democratic Sen. John Kerry about being his running mate in 2004. (Read Dante Higgins' account of the exchange in CBS News' "From The Road" blog.)