With the presidential race in its final week — a week in which voter sentiment normally registers a distinct two- to three-point shift indicative of the election’s ultimate outcome — President Bush’s reelection chances have been bolstered by new jobs numbers from the battleground states.
The latest data, released Friday, show continued improvement in employment in most swing states. Job creation in the 12 months through September outpaced that of the nation as a whole in 10 of the 18 battleground states (defined as those in which the difference in the popular vote between Bush and Al Gore in 2000 was less than 7 percent).
Unemployment rates were below the national average last month in two-thirds of the battleground states (i.e., Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin).
In fact, contrary to John Kerry’s constant refrain about job losses, there are now more payroll jobs in 8 swing states than there were when President Bush took office (i.e., Arizona, Florida, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia). Standouts include Arizona, with a 3.9 percent gain in non-farm payroll jobs since January 2001, Florida, up 4.1 percent, New Mexico, up 5.2 percent, and Nevada, up a whopping 9.2 percent.
This isn’t to say there aren’t problem areas. Ohio and Michigan remain hard hit, suffering payroll employment declines of 4.1 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively, since the beginning of 2001.
Rustbelt residents surely aren’t surprised conditions are tough, because they’ve been tough for years. It’s Schumpeter’s “gales of creative destruction” at work, of course. But capitalism simply doesn’t destroy; it replaces the old with the new. So while the rustbelt may be suffering from a chronic decline, the sunbelt is enjoying brightening prospects (as reflected, for instance, in the employment data for Florida, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico).
Statewide data alone, however, don’t tell the whole story. Metropolitan areas in many battleground states are experiencing above-average employment gains.
Consider the large metropolitan areas (of a million or more residents) with unemployment rates below the national average. These include Phoenix-Mesa, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orlando, Columbus, Fort Lauderdale, Cincinnati, Denver, Milwaukee-Waukesha, and Philadelphia.
Even better, smaller metro areas with unemployment rates of less than 4 percent include Madison (Wis.), Gainesville (Fla.), Portland and Bangor (Me.), Columbia (Mo.), Knoxville, La Crosse (Wis.-Minn.), Portsmouth-Rochester (N.H.-Me.), Reno, Santa Fe, Tallahassee, Sarasota-Bradenton, Chattanooga, Dubuque, Des Moines, Rochester (Minn.), Sheboygan, Ann Arbor, Corvallis (Oreg.), Fort Myers, Harrisburg (Pa.), Pensacola, Tucson, Wausau, Lancaster (Pa.), Manchester (N.H.), and Nashville, Green Bay, Ocala, Punta Gorda, and Springfield (Mo.).
The metropolitan area numbers are important, because in the last presidential contest Gore got most of his support from urban-suburban areas while Bush won fly-over country hands down (as depicted in the following map of county-by-county results for the 2000 election).
The upbeat employment numbers in most swing states, as well as nationally, help to explain why the vast majority of opinion polls taken since the GOP convention give Bush the edge in the presidential race.
But voters don’t need statisticians to know the situation’s improving. They have plenty of anecdotal evidence to tell them that. And what Americans are seeing for themselves is that fewer people are being fired and more are being hired.
– William P. Kucewicz is editor of GeoInvestor.com and a former editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal.