Unemployment falls in battleground states ahead of election

Several swing states saw their unemployment rate drop in September, the Labor Department reported Friday in the final state-by-state breakdown before the election. 

Ohio and Florida — two of the most contested battlegrounds in the race for the White House — were among the states to see employment gains. 

The new data comes just weeks after the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate had unexpectedly fallen to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest level of President Obama’s term. The economy added a total of 114,000 jobs last month. 

In all, seven states being contested by Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney saw a jobless rate drop in September, the government said Friday. Two other states that saw no change — Virginia (5.9 percent) and New Hampshire (5.7 percent) — already have rates well below the national average. 

The figures could shed some light on the state of the tight race between Obama and Romney, which is largely centered on the economy. 

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Romney has surged to the lead in several national polls in recent weeks, following a strong performance in this month’s first presidential debate.

But at the same time, Obama has maintained leads in some key battleground states. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist Poll survey released Thursday, for instance, gave the president an 8-point lead in Iowa and a 6-point advantage in Wisconsin — the home base of Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan. 

Those two Midwestern states were among the battlegrounds that saw a drop in unemployment last month, with Iowa falling from 5.5 percent to 5.2 percent and Wisconsin from 7.5 percent to 7.3 percent.

Florida, the largest of the swing states, with 29 electoral votes, saw its rate tick down from 8.8 percent to 8.7 percent, a year after its rate stood at above 10 percent.

But the state, which has seen some recent poll movement toward Romney, still has a jobless rate almost a full percentage point above the nation.

Ohio has also seen a steep drop in its rate over the last year, from 8.6 percent to 7 percent, with a 0.2 percentage point drop in September. 

Colorado (now at 8 percent), North Carolina (9.6 percent) and Nevada (11.8 percent) also saw rate drops in September. But those three states also have rates above the national average, with Nevada continuing to have the highest rate in the nation.

Pennsylvania, which saw its rate rise from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent, was one of just six states to record a rate increase in September.

In all, 41 states saw their rates drop last month, and three had no change.