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In most battleground states, a brightening job picture

10/25: MoneyWatch

A funny thing happened on the way to the presidential election: Over the past year, unemployment has dropped in nine out of the 13 swing states.

That’s according to data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor, which found that only three swing states saw a worsening jobs market. One state remained flat compared with a year earlier.

7 economic indicators to watch before the election
7 economic indicators to watch before the election

While the jobless rate is just one of many economic indicators that describe the health of the economy, the issue of unemployment and stagnant wages has been front and center during the run-up to the Nov. 8 election. Republican candidate Donald Trump, who has promised to create millions of new jobs, last week called the most recent unemployment report “anemic” and “terrible.”

“In fact I said, is that the last jobs report before the election, because if it is, I should win easily -- it was so bad. The report was so bad,” Trump said during his third debate with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

The unemployment rate in September inched up to 5 percent from 4.9 percent, even as businesses added 156,000 jobs last month. While it might not have been as strong as some economists had hoped, Northern Trust economist Carl Tannenbaum told CBS News the report was “very solid.”

Digging into how voters are experiencing their local economies may provide more insight into which way the battleground states will swing next month. The economy is the top issue on the minds of voters, surpassing terrorism, foreign policy and health care, according to the Pew Research Center.

The nine battleground states around the country where the jobless rate declined between September 2015 and September 2016 are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin. North Caroline saw the sharpest drop in unemployment over that period, with a one percentage point decline. Colorado’s unemployment rate is unchanged from a year earlier, standing at 3.6 percent.

Unemployment rose in three other swing states -- Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- compared with a year earlier. Pennsylvania suffered the worst setback, with the jobless rate rising to 5.7 percent last month, from 4.9 percent a year earlier. 

Not surprisingly, both Clinton and Trump have campaigned hard in Pennsylvania in recent weeks.

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“The economy and jobs are very high on the list, if not No. 1,” Joseph E. Rudderow, III, GOP chairman in Berks County, Pennsylvania, told the Reading Eagle. “People want good-paying jobs back in the United States and certainly back in the commonwealth.”

The Keystone state’s economy has been hit by coal industry layoffs, a swath of over that Trump has sought to win over, as well as cuts in energy exploration. Wells Fargo (WFC) senior economist Mark Vitner projects the state’s economic growth would be “modest” in 2016.

As in other states, Pennsylvania is increasingly dividing between “blue” cities and “red” suburbs and rural areas. With the backdrop of low population growth, younger and more educated workers are increasingly packing up and moving to the state’s two big cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The number of people 25-to-34 years old who moved into Philadelphia more than tripled in the five years after 2006, for instance, Vitner noted in a July report. 

Philadelphia hasn’t escaped Trump’s notice. He’s warned his supporters that the city might be a hot-spot for voter fraud, an allegation that David Thornburgh, the CEO of a voting-focused nonpartisan group called the Committee of Seventy, calls “preposterous.” He also noted that Philadelphia has about eight Democrats for each Republican. 

In the end, the voting issue likely to impact battleground states like Pennsylvania boils down to whether the voters affected by the last year’s swing in jobless rates -- for either good or ill -- will be motivated to get to the polls. 

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