Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - If you are closely following the 2012 presidential race, you have to track the state by state jobless numbers, because they will decide who wins.

It wasn't reported on the network nightly news shows last week, but many states saw their unemployment rates climb, including a few that are pivotal battleground states that could decide who will be our next president.

These numbers are compiled and reported by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics and they are just as important -- maybe more so -- than the campaign polls and what the candidates may be saying on any given day.

You do not get much information about unemployment on the nightly news, except when the monthly job numbers come out. Which is irresponsible, because these numbers deal with the desperate, daily struggles of tens of millions American workers and their families.

BLS says that non-farm employment fell in 22 states in May. The largest month-to-month decrease in employment was in North Carolina(-16,500) followed by Pennsylvania (-9,900) and tax-happy Maryland (-7,500).

Barack Obama carried North Carolina by an eyelash (14,000 votes out of 4.3 million) in 2008, but that state is now up for grabs and could deny him its 15 electoral votes and his chances for a second term.

If you were looking for a state unemployment rate that illustrates all that is wrong with the Obama economy and his policies, North Carolina is one of the worst. The jobless rate there is 9.4 percent, the fourth highest in the nation.

While that could well be enough to shift this state into the GOP's column and significantly tighten the electoral battle, Pennsylvania's potential could be decisive.

It is usually considered a swing state, even though the Democrats have carried it in the last five elections. Obama won there by an overwhelming 11 percent margin.

But unemployment is high there, 7.4 percent, with the real jobless rate closer to 9 percent if you count workers who have stopped looking for a job or are forced to work fewer hours, or take temporary jobs or low paying counter work.

BLS reports that the state lost nearly 10,000 jobs, an ominous sign of Pennsylvania's weakening job market as well as the economy's overall continuing decline.

Mitt Romney's focus on job losses and the economy has made this state a tossup. A Quinnipiac state poll last week showed Obama declining to just a 6 point lead over his Republican challenger, with a huge undecided vote.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.