WASHINGTON (AP) — Friday's lackluster jobs report could play differently in the 2012 presidential campaign's most contested states, where economic conditions vary greatly.
The latest data showed a modest 96,000 new jobs created and the national unemployment rate ticking down slightly to 8.1 percent in August, mostly because people stopped looking for work. Because states like Iowa and New Hampshire are enjoying strong job markets while others like Nevada and North Carolina are suffering more than average, the economy will have a varying political impact in states for which President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are battling intensely.
Here's a look at the economic and political situations in 11 states where the parties are focusing their efforts, including their jobless rates in July, the most recent month available:
Unemployment rate: 8.3 percent. The jobless rate is close to the national average, adding jobs but not keeping up with the numbers of people looking for employment. Romney has visited worksites like a coal mine to tout his business wisdom, while Obama has focused on college campuses to promote the need to invest in education to spur the economy.
"I see a lot of people losing their homes, people losing their jobs," said Rhonda Akhihiero, 49, a nurse's assistant and Democrat from Aurora, Colo. "It's been a steady pace and I don't think it's getting any better." Bill Ritter Jr., who was the state's Democratic governor until last year, says voters will focus on the steady if slow improvement the state's economy is making but concedes, "Getting re-elected in a tough economy like this is a challenge."
Unemployment rate: 8.8 percent. The state's jobless rate reflects a weak construction sector and one of the nation's worst housing markets, with 1 in 7 mortgages in default early this year, said a report by IHS Global, an economic forecasting firm. But home prices may have bottomed out. Both parties are vying for the state's 29 electoral votes, hence the GOP's staging of its national convention in Tampa last month.
One undecided voter is Ashely Figueroa, 19, of Miami, who has been hunting for a job for more than a year and says she'll factor the economy into her decision. "A couple of my friends have jobs, but a lot of people are still looking," she said. "I don't have money for anything."
Unemployment rate: 5.4 percent. IHS Global says the state's economy is improving but still "shaky at best" because of shrinking payrolls in areas like manufacturing. Obama and Romney are certain to continue visiting this state, where Romney has a vacation home.
"It's bad but it's starting to get better," David Jernigan, 42, a basketball coach from Dover, N.H., said of the local economy.
Unemployment rate: 5.3 percent. Construction and manufacturing in the state are doing well, although the economy is being hurt by this year's drought and big reductions in state and local government jobs, IHS Global reports. Both Obama and Romney staged events in the state Friday, but neither has tailored their messages to reflect Iowa's strong economy. Obama has told voters that Romney doesn't understand the challenges facing middle-class Americans, and Romney has argued that the president doesn't understand how the economy works and demonizes employers.
Unemployment rate: 9 percent. Joblessness is way down since 2009 and the state is showing signs of a comeback. Obama contends his effort to rescue General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy is one of his biggest successes, while Romney has said Michigan would benefit from his economic plan, including repeal of Obama's health care law.
Brett Christian, 25, a student from Frankfort, Mich., said he's undecided about whom to support in the presidential race, considering Romney stronger on the economy but favoring Obama on social issues. But he said, "The economy does need to be fixed. It's probably the main priority that they need to work on before getting into the other stuff."
Unemployment rate: 12 percent. Nevada has the nation's highest jobless rate. Adding to its problems — more than half of homeowners owe more than their dwellings are worth, and the weak national economy leaves vacationers and gamblers with less money to spend when they visit. "Nevadans are so, I'm looking for a word somewhere between cynical and desperate" about what Obama or Romney can do for them, said Erik Herzik, chairman of the political science department at University of Nevada, Reno.