Discuss as:

State jobless data offers mixed picture for Obama and Romney


The economy remains the top issue for voters, and a new set of data released Friday paints a picture of an uneven economic recovery in a series of battleground states.

Of the nine states categorized as "battleground states" by NBC News, five had state unemployment rates below the national unemployment rate of 7.8 percent in September, according to preliminary estimates released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The other four states suffered from a higher-than-average jobless rates, the highest of which was in Nevada; the BLS said that 11.8 percent of Nevadans were unemployed through September, the highest unemployment rate of all 50 states. (One U.S. territory, Puerto Rico, had a higher jobless rate.)

Friday's news is the last series of state-level unemployement data voters will receive before Election Day. One last national jobs report is due Nov. 2, the Friday before voters head to the polls.

President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have each made jobs the centerpiece of their respective campaigns. The president got a boost earlier this month when the BLS report showed the unemployment rate dropping below 8 percent for the first time in years, disarming Romney of one of his most potent cudgels versus the president.

But as each Obama and Romney travel the country over the next 18 days looking to secure the 270 electoral votes they need to win the White House, economic optimism might be brighter in some states and still dim in others.

The five states with unemployment rates below 7.8 percent included Iowa (5.2 percent), New Hampshire (5.7 percent), Ohio (7.0 percent), Virginia (5.9 percent) and Wisconsin (7.3 percent).

The four battleground states with unemployment rates above the national average are Colorado (8.0 percent), Florida (8.7 percent), Nevada and North Carolina (9.6 percent).

If, for purposes of speculation, Obama were to win the battleground states with jobless rates beneath 7.8 percent along with all of the other states considered more safely in his column, he would win the Electoral College, 288-250.

But politics, of course, are not that simple. For instance, the number of employees on nonfarm payrolls in Ohio actually decreased between August and September, though the unemployment rate dropped from 7.2 percent to 7 percent over the same period.

But as Obama argues that the economy is moving forward and Romney asserts that the recovery has not been sufficiently robust, it's helpful to remember how those arguments might sound different to voters in differing states.