Unemployment rate drops in 45 states

Florida, Ohio and Michigan — states that have already played a big role in the race for the GOP nomination and that President Obama will be looking to keep in the Democratic column this fall — were among the places where unemployment rates dropped in January.

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Michigan's rate, which was 10.9 percent in January 2011, fell to 9 percent this January. Unemployment rates in Florida (now 9.6 percent) and Ohio (now 7.7 percent) also have dropped at least 1 percentage point over the last year.

In all, four states — Nevada, California, Rhode Island and North Carolina — still have unemployment rates north of 10 percent, according to the government report. All four of those states voted for Obama in 2008, and Nevada and North Carolina could be presidential swing states this time around.

Nine states had a rate of at least 10 percent in January 2011.

Two of the four states that had no change in their employment rate — New Hampshire (5.2 percent) and New Mexico (7 percent) — are also expected to get attention from the presidential nominees in the weeks and months leading up to November’s election.

For their part, North Dakota, Nebraska and South Dakota continued to have the lowest unemployment rate in the country, all with rates well below 5 percent.

The numbers follow a string of positive economic reports, but a couple of recent polls have illustrated that rising gas prices could cause trouble for Obama’s bid for a second term.