Unemployment declined last month in eight of 10 states that are hotly contested in the presidential race, including Ohio where job losses and a struggling economy have boosted Democrat John Kerry's (search) election hopes.

Friday's Labor Department report on regional and state employment in September was the last snapshot of the labor market before the election.

Ohio's unemployment rate declined to 6 percent in September from 6.3 percent the previous month. Employers' payrolls grew by 5,500, helping to send down the rate. But more jobseekers dropped out of the labor pool, too, contributing to the rate decline.

Among the closely contested states, unemployment rates declined last month in Pennsylvania, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Nevada and Colorado in addition to Ohio.

Rates climbed in two battleground states, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Kerry and President Bush are focused most intensely on relatively few states where polls show the race especially tight. Polls suggest the race is close nationally as well, but most states are clearly supporting one candidate or the other.

Hurricanes last month probably affected employment in Florida and Pennsylvania, the Labor Department said. Florida's payrolls shrank by 9,500, though Pennsylvania's grew by 4,600.

In other details:

— Minnesota's unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in September, down from 4.8 percent the previous month, with businesses adding 5,000 jobs.

— In Colorado, the rate dropped to 4.9 percent from 5.1 percent in August, with payrolls expanding by about 800.

— Iowa's unemployment rate climbed to 4.7 percent, from 4.5 percent in August. But employers added 1,300 jobs.

— Wisconsin's jobless rate rose to 5 percent from 4.8 percent as payrolls fell by 7,000.

The national rate in September was 5.4 percent.