Midwest jobless rates shape electoral map

New state employment figures help explain the shape of the race in two Midwestern battlegrounds now at the heart of the presidential contest: Ohio, where Mitt Romney has gained some ground, and Wisconsin, where President Obama maintains his small lead.

Unemployment has fallen over the past year in eight of nine battleground states—those expected to be the most closely contested in November—according to Labor Department data released Friday, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Although the state declines vary in size, they generally follow the national trend, in which joblessness has fallen to 7.8 percent in September from 9 percent a year earlier.

But Ohio and Wisconsin stand out. Ohio added 88,700 new jobs over the past year—more than any of the battleground states—many tied to the auto industry, the data show. The state's jobless rate fell to 7 percent from 8.6 percent during that time, a steeper drop than the national rate. But Ohio's rebound has slowed lately.

Wisconsin, meantime, is the only battleground state to lose job -- both public and private -- over the past year. Unemployment there slid just a tenth of a percentage point to 7.3% in September from a year earlier—the worst performance among the battleground states except for New Hampshire, where the rate ticked up.

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