Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is the Metro Editor for WNYC News. She has previously served as Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
The layers of irony could scarcely be denser. Buoyed in part by automobile hiring, employment in swing states looks far better than the nation as a whole, providing a possible path to victory for President Barack Obama, who bailed out the big three auto manufacturers with a clothespin on his nose.
In Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, the auto industry has been adding jobs at rapid clip, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So that even though things were really bad in those states, they're now less bad. Which is good news for the President.
"We know that this thing is going to be super tight," said a senior Democratic official. "But we are absolutely of the belief that the swing states jobs numbers will be determinative in the fall."
By now, the national narrative is well known. May's employment numbers were meh, signalling a heap of trouble for the President. "He is the underdog," opined NPR's Mara Liasson, who then ticked off things that could only make the electoral picture worse for the Democrats: the Euro crisis, the Chinese economy, etcetera. That pretty much sums up the conventional wisdom.
In the swing states, things are markedly better than they were two years ago, and in many of them, the employment picture is a whole lot brighter than the nation as a whole.
Take Michigan and Ohio. According to April data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both of those key states have "statistically significant unemployment rate changes" over April of last year. (May data won't be out until the end of next week.) Ohio's rate is down 1.4 percent from last year, Michigan's is down 2.2 percent.
And even though Michigan's unemployment rate, at 8.3. percent, is a tick over the national average, that doesn't much matter, according to Howard Wial, a Brookings Institution Fellow who focuses on regional economic development. "Look at the direction, not the level," Wial admonishes. "That's as well established as any fact on jobs and the elections."
Ohio is also helped along by natural gas drilling, as is Pennsylvania. In Iowa and New Hampshire, the unemployment rate sounds like the 1990's -- 5.1 percent in Iowa, 5.0 in New Hampshire.
Even in states like North Carolina, Nevada and Florida, unemployment is trending downwards, though it's still higher than the national average. Unemployment is also dropping in Arizona and Wisconsin. In Virginia it's just 5.6 percent.
"There have been three industry sources of growth over the last year or so," Wial says. "The auto industry, information technology, and energy."
All located disproportionately, in swing states.