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Aug 21, 11:26 AM EDT

Unemployment stays low in US states with nomination fights


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell in 24 U.S. states last month, including some of those with early presidential nominating contests.

Jobless rates rose in 14 states and were unchanged in 12. Employers added jobs in 34 states and cut them in 16.

In Iowa, site of the nation's first presidential contest, the rate ticked up to a still-low 3.8 percent from 3.7 percent. The unemployment rate in New Hampshire, site of the second contest, slipped to 3.7 percent from 3.8 percent.

Those rates are far below the nation's unemployment rate of 5.3 percent and could lower the importance of the economy in those states as a political issue. Economic issues occupied a small portion of the GOP's first presidential primary debate last month, a stark contrast from the primary debates of 2012, which focused heavily on jobs and the economy.

Other states with early nominating contests have higher rates, though in some cases they are falling quickly. In Nevada, which will pick Republican and Democratic nominees Feb. 20, unemployment is still high at 6.8 percent. Yet it has fallen from 7.6 percent in the past year, even as the state's work force has grown.

Nevada has added about 45,000 jobs in the past year, with almost half the gains occurring in hotels, restaurants and casinos.

Several states scheduled to choose presidential nominees March 1 also have low unemployment, including Colorado, at 4.3 percent; Minnesota, 4 percent; Oklahoma, 4.5 percent; Texas, 4.2 percent; and Virginia, 4.8 percent.

The economy may still be a major issue in South Carolina, which is expected to hold a primary in February, though the exact date is not yet fixed. Its unemployment rate is elevated, at 6.4 percent, down from 6.8 percent two months earlier but unchanged from a year ago. Its workforce has also grown and the state has gained 55,000 jobs in the past year.

Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina are also set for early primaries, and have unemployment rates higher than the nation's. Alabama's is 6.2 percent, Georgia's is 6 percent and North Carolina's is 5.9 percent.

Nebraska has the nation's lowest unemployment rate, at 2.7 percent, followed by North Dakota with 3 percent.

West Virginia, which has been hit by a steep decline in coal prices, has the highest rate, at 7.5 percent.

California added the most jobs in July, gaining 80,700, followed by Texas, with 31,400, and Florida, with 30,500.

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