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Employment trends in key states could hold electoral clues

April 20, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Tom Holloway looks for work at a sign board at JobTrain, an employment center in Menlo Park, Calif., on Friday.
Tom Holloway looks for work at a sign board at JobTrain, an employment center… (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

The consensus in polling this week is that jobs and the economy are the top concerns for voters in the presidential election. And if that's the case, there was mixed news for the White House in the release of new state-by-state unemployment data on Friday.

Overall, the unemployment rate went up in eight states, held steady in 12 and dropped in 30 from February to March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The five biggest declines came in Oklahoma and Mississippi (down 0.6%), followed by Massachusetts and Florida (down 0.4%), and Nevada and Michigan (down 0.3%).

There's not necessarily a correlation between the president's popularity in a given state and the unemployment rate there. The states with the three-lowest rates, North Dakota (3%), Nebraska (4%) and South Dakota (4.3%), are solidly Republican overall.

But with the general election campaign now engaged, it's worth looking beyond the month-to-month fluctuations to see the larger trends over President Obama's term, and where the White House is likely to make the case that Obama's policies have been successful.

There are now 20 states where the unemployment rate is lower than it was in January 2009, when Obama took the oath of office. Four states have returned to parity, while the rate is higher overall today in 26 states, as well as the District of Columbia.

The biggest decline over that period came in Michigan, where the unemployment rate in March stood at 8.5%, down from 11.3% in Obama's first month in office. More significantly, Michigan's unemployment rate is down from a peak of 14.2% in August 2009, a turnaround that the White House would say represents the success of the administration's auto industry rescue plan, and others to boost the manufacturing sector.

Another key battleground, Ohio, has seen its unemployment rate drop 3.1 percentage points since its all-time high, from 10.6% in January of 2010 to 7.5% this month. Obama was in the Cleveland area this week touting the merits of his administration's investment in job-training programs at community colleges.

But in another swing state, the numbers tell a different story. Nevada's unemployment rate stands at 12%, up from 9.6% at the start of the president's term, but 2 points lower than its peak unemployment in the fall of 2010.

Nevada remains the state with the highest unemployment rate, joining Rhode Island and California as the last remaining states in double-digits. Two other swing states, North Carolina and Florida, are among the top five states in terms of highest unemployment.

Overall 18 states are at or above the national unemployment rate of 8.2%.

The state-by-state unemployment data for March are available here.

Original source: Employment trends in key states could hold electoral clues

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