by Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
Unemployment rates fell in 41 states and the District of Columbia last month, reflecting a sharp drop in the nation's jobless rate just weeks before the presidential election.
Unemployment increased in six states, and three states showed no change.
Among key swing states in the presidential race, the jobless rate declined in nine, was unchanged in two and increased in one.
The national unemployment rate was 7.8% in September. That was down from 8.1% in August and 9% in September 2011.
The 12 presidential battleground states are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Nevada and Iowa posted the largest declines, with the jobless rate falling to 11.8% from 12.1% in Nevada, and to 5.2% from 5.5% in Iowa.
The rate fell to 7% from 7.2% in pivotal swing state Ohio, to 8% from 8.2% in Colorado, and to 7.3% from 7.5% in Wisconsin.
Unemployment also dropped slightly in Florida, Michigan, New Mexico and North Carolina. It was unchanged in Virginia and New Hampshire. And it rose in Pennsylvania to 8.2% from 8.1%
Among all the states, South Carolina posted the largest decline, with unemployment falling to 9.1% from 9.6%. The rate also fell four tenths of a percentage point in California, to 10.2%; in Hawaii, to 5.7%; in Louisiana, to 7%; and in Utah, to 5.4%.
Unemployment increased to 6.5% from 6.3% in Massachussets. And besides Pennsylvania, it also rose slightly in West Virginia, Vermont, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
Overall, Nevada continued to have the highest unemployment rate, at 11.8%, followed by Rhode Island, at 10.5%, and California's 10.2%. North Dakota, which is benefiting from an oil boom, continued to have the lowest rate at 3%.
Among regions, unemployment was highest in the West last month and lowest in the Midwest.