In a state President Barack Obama needs to win, the incumbent should be pleased by the sales report from Tom Sarachs staffing firm in southeast Virginia.
Last year was a record year, said Sarach, president of Reliance Staffing, which has four offices in the Hampton Roads area. This year were doing even better.
The growing demand for Sarachs temporary workers helps explains Virginias 5.7 percent unemployment rate, far below the national average of 8.3 percent. Home to a large chunk of the federal bureaucracy, Virginias relatively strong labor market helps explain Obamas narrow lead in Virginia as the national economy recovers at the slowest pace since the 1930s.
Whats making Obama much more competitive here is the economy, said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, the leading political guru in a state seen as a prime battleground in the 2012 election. If you have economic conditions in Virginia that are this good and he cant win, how can he win elsewhere?
With polls tight and the national recovery limping along, state economies could provide the difference in Mitt Romneys bid to unseat President Obama. While the U.S. unemployment rate gets the most attention from commentators and candidates, its the state-level data that best reflect what voters face on a daily basis.
To get a more nuanced look at the economys role in the presidential election, The Miami Herald analyzed eight economic indicators for the 14 states where polls are the closest. The exercise was designed to roughly answer the question Ronald Reagan made famous in 1980 when unseating another Democratic president battling a battered economy. Are you better off than you were four years ago?
No swing state could honestly answer yes to that question none have seen hiring return to where it was in 2008. But some clearly have done better than others, and the bulk of them are outpacing the country in some key metrics.
Ten have lower unemployment rates than the current national average, which hit 8.3 percent in July. The federal labor agency will release state-level unemployment reports for July on Friday. Only three swing states saw their unemployment rates increase more than the nations did during the last four years.
Eleven have lower foreclosure rates than the nation, and eight have seen stronger property values than the national average since 2008. And since the end of 2008, eight swing states have watched their economic growth outpace the nations.
If the economies in the swing states were doing worse, Sabato said, I would say Obama would be cooked.
Not all of the numbers are rosy for swing states, and none show a truly healthy economy compared to where they stood before the recession. Only two are adding jobs at a faster rate than are employers nationwide. Using a Federal Reserve index of economic output, only three saw growth pick up at a faster pace than the national average this year.
On one end of the swing-state economic spectrum are two clear stand-outs: Virginia and Iowa.
For Iowa, the latest unemployment rate of 5.2 percent is even lower than Virginias, and just a point higher than where it was in November 2006. But the standout statistic comes from the housing market.