WASHINGTON -- Employers added a larger-than-expected 171,000 jobs in October across a broad spectrum of businesses, the government said Friday in the final snapshot of the economy before election day.
The nation's unemployment rate rose to 7.9% from 7.8% in September, but that came as more people jumped back into the labor market -- a positive sign that workers may be feeling more confident about their job prospects.
The new Labor Department report, which also revised sharply higher job growth in September and August, may give a slight boost to President Obama, whose record on the economy has been the most vulnerable part of his reelection bid -- though at this late stage the vast majority of voters have made up their minds about the economy and what that means for their choices.
The White House is likely to emphasize, as it has throughout the campaign, that the economy has continued to create jobs month after month since early 2010 when employment turned the corner. But Romney and his Republican backers will stress the still-high unemployment rate as an indication of what they see as failed economic policies.
The unemployment rate was 7.8% in the month that Obama took office in early 2009, and it rose to a high of 10% later that year before slowly coming down and then dipping below 8% for the first time in September.
With the addition of 171,000 jobs in October and upward revisions for the prior two months, employers have boosted their payrolls on average by 173,000 a month since July. While not spectacular by any stretch, that pace is double the sluggish job creation rate in the spring and strong enough to absorb new workers coming into the labor market -- and then some.
In October, a broad spectrum of employers in the service industry added a solid batch of new jobs, including professional services, healthcare, retail and leisure businesses. Manufacturing was little changed over the month, but the construction industry added 17,000 jobs in October, reflecting an emerging recovery in the housing market. Analysts were forecasting 125,000 new jobs in October.
Still, economic growth remains slow, and prospects for future hiring are threatened by troubles overseas and the looming domestic tax increases and fiscal spending cuts. Exports and business investments, primary engines since the recovery began in mid-2009, have weakened in recent months, but the housing sector and consumer confidence are showing signs of strengthening.