WASHINGTON — Unemployment rates rose in 44 U.S. states in July, the most states to show a monthly increase in more than three years and a reflection of weak hiring nationwide.
The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates fell in only two states and were unchanged in four.
Unemployment rates rose in nine states that are considered battlegrounds in the presidential election. That trend, if it continued, could pose a threat to President Barack Obama's re-election bid in less than three months.
Nationwide, hiring improved in July after three months of tepid job gains. But the national unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent from 8.2 percent. Monthly job gains have averaged 150,000 this year. That's barely enough to accommodate population growth. As a result, the unemployment rate is the same as when the year began.
Still, 31 states gained jobs in July, while 19 lost them. Unemployment rates can rise in a state even when more jobs are created if more people start looking for work. People who are out of work are counted as unemployed only if they're looking for a job.
In the most closely contested states in the presidential race, unemployment has fallen over the past year. That could help Obama in his contest with GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
But it has started to tick up in recent months. In Nevada, the rate rose to 12 percent in July from 11.6 percent the previous month. That's the highest rate in the nation, though it's still much lower than a year ago, when it was 13.8 percent.
And in Michigan, the rate has increased to 9 percent, from 8.5 percent two months earlier.
Unemployment also increased in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
The rate was unchanged at 7.2 percent in Ohio, the only swing state that didn't suffer an increase. Still, that rate is down sharply from 8.9 percent a year ago.
Most competitive states have unemployment rates below the national level, so even recent increases may not have a large impact on voter sentiment.
Iowa's unemployment rate, for example, increased to 5.3 percent, still the sixth-lowest in the country. New Hampshire's rose to 5.4 percent and Virginia's increased to 5.9 percent, both far below the national rate.
Only four swing states have higher unemployment rates than the national figure: Nevada, Michigan, North Carolina at 9.6 percent, and Florida at 8.8 percent.
Some battleground states reported large job gains that could lead to lower unemployment rates in coming months. Michigan added 21,800 jobs, the second-largest increase in the nation, after California. Michigan's gains were mostly in manufacturing and government. Virginia reported the third-largest increase, 21,300, mainly in education and health care.
Most other battleground states added small numbers of jobs.
Unemployment rates and total jobs data are derived from two separate surveys and aren't always consistent each month. But they tend to even out over time.
Many political scientists say voter attitudes may be shaped more by national economic trends than local or statewide changes.
Most Americans probably read or hear more news about the national economy than they do about their local areas, some experts say. And they may not attribute regional economic changes to presidential policies.
Overall, the economy hasn't been growing fast enough to generate more hiring. It expanded at an annual rate of only 1.5 percent in the April-June quarter, down from 2 percent in the first quarter and 4.1 percent in the final three months of last year.
Birth Certificate -- "Born In The USA"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/obama-birth-certificate-r_n_854248.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(April 27, 2011) --</strong></a> The White House <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/04/27/president-obamas-long-form-birth-certificate" target="_hplink">released</a> President Barack Obama's "long form" birth certificate, adding documentation to a longstanding discussion over his ability to serve as commander in chief. "We do not have time for this kind of silliness," Obama said. "We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve." (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Osama Bin Laden Killed -- "Tonight, Tonight"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/01/osama-bin-laden-dead-killed_n_856091.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 1, 2011)</strong></a> -- In a televised address to the nation, Obama announces that Osama bin Laden is dead. His death was the result of a U.S. operation launched today in Abbottabad, Pakistan, against a compound where bin Laden was believed to be hiding. "[T]oday's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people," Obama proclaimed. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)
Debt Ceiling Deal -- "Gold On The Ceiling"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/02/obama-debt-ceiling-deal-jobs_n_916285.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Aug. 2, 2011) --</strong></a> After the Senate passed a bill to raise the debt limit, Obama pleaded with Congress to shift their attention to jobs. "I will urge them to immediately take some steps -- bipartisan, common-sense steps -- that will make a difference; that will create a climate where businesses can hire, where folks have more money in their pockets to spend, where people who are out of work can find good jobs," he said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Don't Ask Don't Tell -- "Don't Stop Believin'"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/barack-obama-dont-ask-dont-tell-repeal-statement_n_971662.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Sept. 20, 2011) --</strong></a> As the ban on gays serving in the military came to an end, Obama hailed the fresh start, celebrating the fact that "patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love." (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Iraq War To End -- "Homeward Bound"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/21/obama-iraq-troop-withdrawal_n_1024108.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Oct. 21, 2011) --</strong></a> Obama announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by 2011, fulfilling a promise that dated back to his campaign. "As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end," Obama said. "So today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year." (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/obama-al-green-apollo-theater_n_1218070.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Jan. 20, 2012) --</strong></a> During a fundraiser at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater, Obama delivered a memorable musical message to his donors. With Rev. Al Green in attendance, Obama sang part of Green's hit song "Let's Stay Together," drawing strong applause from the crowd.
Singing Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/21/obama-sings-sweet-home-chicago_n_1292576.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Feb. 21, 2012) --</strong></a> Days after his Al Green rendition, Obama flexed his vocal chords again with a hometown favorite. The East Room of the White House had its blues fix filled when the president started swinging "Sweet Home Chicago."
Gay Marriage -- "Can't Fight This Feeling"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/obama-gay-marriage_n_1503245.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 9, 2012) --</strong></a> In a sit-down interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, Obama explained his evolution on the issue, affirming his support for gay marriage. "[A]t a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," he said.
Immigration -- "With Arms Wide Open"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/obama-immigration-order-deportation-dream-act_n_1599658.html " target="_hplink"><strong>(June 15, 2012) --</strong></a> The Obama administration addressed America's immigration issue, announcing that it will halt deportations and grant work permits to young individuals eligible for Dream-Act benefits. "They pledge allegiance to our flag," Obama said. "They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Health Care Reform -- "Beautiful Day"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/supreme-court-health-care-decision_n_1585131.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(June 28, 2012) --</strong></a> After weeks of speculation that Obama's signature piece of legislation could be overturned, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is constitutional. "It should be pretty clear that I didn't do this because it's good politics," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/obama-health-care-ruling_n_1632953.html" target="_hplink">Obama said</a>. "I did it because it's good for the country." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)