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Could swing state unemployment spell trouble for Obama?

July 20, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • A sign on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building in Washington draws attention to a major election-year issue: jobs.
A sign on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building in Washington draws attention… (Karen Bleier / AFP/GettyImages )

New state-by-state job numbers are out, and they indicate that the economies of crucial swing states are still limping along, which might present a challenge to President Obama’s reelection hopes.

Nevada, Wisconsin, Colorado, New Mexico and Indiana all lost jobs from May to June, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while states such as California and North Dakota added jobs.

Growth was also anemic in Florida, where the president had been campaigning this week.

“Today’s employment report reveals the problematic arithmetic of continuing to bring down the unemployment rate,” said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida.

Data from past elections suggest that the economies of individual states have little effect on presidential election results. Voters in the past have responded mostly to news about the national economy, political scientists say. Nonetheless, in a close election, state-to-state variations could have some influence in a state sicj as Florida, which saw its unemployment rate fall to 8.6% from 10.7% a year ago, but added only 9,000 jobs in June.

Wisconsin fared even worse, losing 13,200 jobs over the month. That state’s employment fell over the year by 0.7%. Colorado shed 6,900 jobs and Indiana lost 5,300. Nevada lost 1,000 and New Mexico lost 3,800. Unemployment rates in Indiana and Virginia actually ticked up slightly in June.

While some ups and downs are to be expected, any job loss is a bad sign this far into an economic recovery. The recession ended in June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“The private sector is in a bit of a holding pattern, and I can’t see anything before the election changing that,” Snaith said.

The average of opinion polls maintained by the Real Clear Politics website currently puts Obama up by 2.9 points in Colorado, 1.2 points in Virginia, 0.4 points in Florida and 4.8 points in Wisconsin, the state with the second-largest decrease in jobs over the year.

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