The jobless rate rose in August in five of 10 states considered battlegrounds in the U.S. presidential election less than two months before voters head to the polls.
Unemployment climbed in Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa, North Carolina and Nevada, figures from the Labor Department showed Friday in Washington. The rate dropped in Colorado and New Mexico, and was unchanged from July in Ohio, Florida and Virginia. Joblessness in six of the 10 states is below the national average of 8.1 percent.
Changes in the unemployment rate in the swing states may influence voters as they weigh President Barack Obama’s argument that his policies are helping heal the economy and Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s contention that the president’s policies have left Americans worse off than they were four years ago.
“In the last six months or so, the trends have never been negative from Obama’s point of view — the growth has been slow, but it’s been steady,” said Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas in Austin, who studies voter behavior in presidential elections. “And that has gradually defanged the economic issue as a promising one for Romney.”
Employers cut jobs in six of the electoral swing states in August, including Ohio and Virginia. Florida and Wisconsin showed a pickup in employment.
A Labor Department report earlier this month showed the unemployment rate in the U.S. dropped in August from 8.3 percent in July as more Americans left the workforce.
Unemployment climbed to 7.5 percent in Wisconsin last month from 7.3 percent in July, rose to 5.7 percent from 5.4 percent in New Hampshire, and increased in Iowa to 5.5 percent from 5.3 percent. The jobless rate in North Carolina rose to 9.7 percent in August from 9.6 percent and advanced in Nevada to 12.1 percent, the highest in the nation, from 12 percent.
The jobless rate in Ohio was 7.2 percent in August for a third month and stayed at 8.8 percent in Florida. Obama carried a majority of the vote in Ohio, Florida and six other key swing states in 2008. Ohio and Florida account for two of the biggest electoral prizes this year.
Among the swing states, Florida showed the biggest gain in employment at 23,200 last month. Payrolls climbed 7,800 in Wisconsin. Virginia’s 12,400 drop in employment was the largest of any U.S. state in August. In Ohio, employers reduced headcount by 2,000.
The lack of clarity on taxes and government spending associated with the approaching so-called fiscal cliff, along with a weaker global economy, may be prompting companies to hold the line on headcounts.
Obama polls 50 percent among likely voters in Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa, according to the latest survey. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College poll gave Obama identical 5 percentage-point leads, 50 percent to 45 percent, in Colorado and Wisconsin, and an 8-point advantage in Iowa, 50 percent to 42 percent.
The surveys were conducted Sept. 16-18 of 971 likely voters in Colorado with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 898 likely voters in Iowa with a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points and 968 likely voters in Wisconsin with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
An NBC/Journal poll of likely voters released last week put Obama ahead of Romney 49 percent to 44 percent in Florida and Virginia, and leading with 50 percent to 43 percent in Ohio. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio.
At the same time, the national daily Gallup tracking poll of registered voters for the period Sept. 13-19 has the two candidates tied at 47 percent.
Among all states, 26 registered a gain in joblessness in August, while 12 posted decreases, today’s data showed. Payrolls climbed in 28 states last month and fell in 21.
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.
Moody’s Analytics Inc., which predicts presidential election results based solely on state-by-state economic data and past voting behavior, predicted Obama winning the election with 303 electoral votes as of Aug. 22, unchanged from the previous month’s forecast.
A candidate needs 270 Electoral College votes for the presidency. The 10 swing states have a combined total of 115 electoral votes.
The latest Moody’s analysis was released in advance of the August payrolls data. Employers nationwide added 96,000 jobs last month, less than the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, after a revised 141,000 gain in July that was smaller than initially estimated, Labor Department data showed on Sept. 7.
Factory employment fell by the most in two years, temporary-help companies cut positions for the first time in five months and the share of the working-age population in the labor force slumped to the lowest since 1981.
Including the August gain, the U.S. has recovered 4.1 million of the 8.8 million jobs lost as a result of the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009.
At the same time, the jobless rate has exceeded 8 percent for 43 consecutive months, the longest stretch in the post-World War II era.
The lack of progress in the labor market persuaded the Federal Reserve to announce further accommodation last week. The Fed said it will expand its holdings of long-term securities with open-ended purchases of $40 billion of mortgage debt a month in a third round of quantitative easing as it seeks to boost growth and reduce unemployment.
“If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the committee will continue its purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases and employ its other policy tools as appropriate,” the Federal Open Market Committee said Sept. 13 in a statement at the end of a two-day meeting in Washington.
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