WASHINGTON – Unemployment rates (search) fell in 11 of the 17 battleground states that could decide the presidential election, with Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin showing the biggest declines last month, the Labor Department said Friday.
Four of the battleground states saw jobless rates rise: Arizona, Arkansas, Ohio and Washington. Jobless rates in two battleground states remained the same: New Mexico and Pennsylvania. Overall, unemployment rates were lower in 29 states, higher in 14 states and the District of Columbia, and unchanged in seven states.
President Bush's economic team hit the road to tout an improving jobs market.
"The economy is robust, new jobs are growing and the unemployment rate is dropping across the country," Labor Secretary Elaine Chao (search) said. She was headed to Minnesota to visit a job-training program run by a religious group that was awarded a $1.9 million federal grant to train workers for the health care industry.
Minnesota's unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent in April from 4.8 percent in March. The national rate is 5.6 percent.
Michigan posted the largest rate drop last month, declining to 6.1 percent from 6.9 percent in March. Wisconsin's rate fell to 4.6 percent from 5.1 percent.
Ohio, which has lost tens of thousands of jobs, is shaping up to be one of the most important states in the race between Bush and Democrat John Kerry. In 2000, Al Gore lost Ohio by just 3 percentage points even after abandoning his campaign there. Ohio's unemployment rate ticked up to 5.8 percent last month from 5.7 percent in March.