The jobless rate dropped in Ohio and five other states where President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are concentrating their campaigns, according to U.S. Labor Department data released less than three weeks before voters head to the polls.
Along with Ohio, the September unemployment rate fell in Wisconsin, Colorado, Florida, Iowa and in Nevada, the department said today in Washington. In two other states the campaigns consider battlegrounds, New Hampshire and Virginia, the rate was unchanged from August. Joblessness in five of the eight states is below the national average of 7.8 percent.
Comparatively favorable economic circumstances in the swing states give Obama an advantage in the contest for Electoral College votes, which determine the victor in U.S. presidential elections, said Xu Cheng, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics who oversees an election forecasting model based on state-by-state economic conditions.
“Most of the battleground states are doing better than the national average, especially in the key battleground state of Ohio,” Cheng said. “Ohio’s economy is coming back strongly due to the revival of the auto industry and the revival of its steel industry.”
The eight states have a total of 95 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Obama won them all in 2008. Ohio has a pivotal role in electoral politics: It has gone with the winning candidate in every presidential election since 1964, and no Republican has won the White House without carrying the state.
The state’s 7.0 percent September unemployment rate -- a decline from 7.2 percent in August even as payrolls dropped -- is now more than two percentage points lower than it was during the same month in 1984, when Ronald Reagan won Ohio in his “Morning in America” re-election campaign themed on an economic rebound. Iowa’s jobless rate of 5.2 percent compares with 7.0 percent the same month in 1984.
While Romney has pulled ahead of Obama in some recent national polls, the president holds on to a lead in some of the battlegrounds.
Obama led Romney by 51 percent to 43 percent in Iowa and 51 percent to 45 percent in Wisconsin, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College survey of likely voters conducted Oct. 15-17 and released yesterday.
In Ohio, Obama led Romney 51 to 45 percent in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College survey of likely voters conducted Oct. 7-9. Obama victories in Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin would be enough for him to win re-election if he holds onto states leaning Democratic.
Romney’s campaign picked up momentum after his performance in his first debate with Obama on Oct. 3 in Denver. The latest Gallup tracking poll of likely voters nationally, based on surveys taken Oct. 12-18, showed Romney with a six-point lead after being tied at the beginning of the month.
Obama is campaigning today in Virginia before spending the weekend preparing for his third and final debate with Romney on Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Florida. Romney this evening will be joined by his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, for a rally in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Labor-market developments in the swing states may help influence undecided voters as they determine how to cast their ballots.
“The economy is the most important thing in the election and the most important thing that voters care about,” even as the next debate turns to foreign policy, said Stephen Hess, a presidential historian at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Romney’s campaign advisers “are probably hoping against hope there won’t be any more good news” on the economy, said Hess, who served in the administrations of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon and as an adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
A Labor Department report earlier this month showed the nation’s unemployment rate dropped in September from 8.1 percent a month earlier. The October data are scheduled to be released Nov. 2, four days before the election.
Employers added jobs in five of eight electoral swing states in September. Payrolls in Virginia climbed 11,500 and Nevada showed a 7,100 pickup. Employment decreased 12,800 in Ohio, while New Hampshire and Iowa also showed declines.
Unemployment fell to 7.3 percent in Wisconsin last month from 7.5 percent in August, dropped to 8.7 percent from 8.8 percent in Florida, and decreased in Iowa to 5.2 percent from 5.5 percent. The rate in Nevada, which has the highest unemployment among U.S. states, dropped to 11.8 percent from 12.1 percent.
The rate in New Hampshire was 5.7 percent in September for a second month. In Virginia, unemployment held at 5.9 percent.
Businesses continue to face hurdles for hiring with weak global demand and uncertainties surrounding the so-called fiscal cliff -- the more than $600 billion in federal spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect in January unless Congress acts.
State and local employment data are derived independently from the national statistics, which are typically released on the first Friday of every month. The state figures are subject to larger sampling errors because they come from smaller surveys, making the national figures more reliable, according to the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Employers nationwide added 114,000 jobs last month, after a revised 142,000 gain in August that was larger than initially estimated, Labor Department data showed on Oct. 5.
The drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent last month broke a 43-month streak of joblessness above 8 percent -- the longest stretch in the post-World War II era. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a rise to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent.
Including the September gain, the U.S. has recovered 4.3 million of the 8.8 million jobs lost as a result of the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009.
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