WASHINGTON: The United States added 171,000 jobs in October, far more than expected, while the unemployment rate edged up to 7.9 per cent, the government reported Friday just days ahead of the presidential election.
The encouraging jobs report provided a final snapshot of a slowly improving economy as President Barack Obama battles for re-election next Tuesday in a neck-and-neck race against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The muddling economy and high unemployment are uppermost on Americans' minds as they head to the polls.
The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 per cent, after a surprising three-point drop to 7.8 per cent in September, the same level when Obama took office in January 2009, as the workforce registered a 578,000 rise.
Most analysts had forecast the higher jobless rate, but job growth far outpaced their consensus estimate of 125,000.
The effects of Hurricane Sandy, the deadly storm that ravaged the eastern seaboard on Monday and Tuesday, were not reflected in the jobs report, calculated on surveys of businesses and households in mid-month
The Labor Department's sharp revisions to previous months numbers showed a substantial improvement in job growth since mid-2012.
The department raised its estimates for August and September net new jobs by 33 per cent.
A rolling three-month average suggests a job creation trend that is picking up pace: the US added 170,000 jobs per month in the August-October period, compared with 146,000 in the three months to September and 94,000 in the prior period.
The private sector again led the way with growth in professional and business services, health care and the retail sector.
A net 184,000 private-sector jobs were added in October, a jump of 44 per cent from September and the best growth since February, while governments pared 13,000.
The struggling manufacturing sector gained 13,000 jobs.
“The president's election strategists will have something to cheer about in the final four days of the campaign,” said Sal Guatieri at BMO Capital Markets.
“Job growth improved meaningfully in October, though a jump in labor force participation lifted the unemployment rate slightly. This suggests the economy is gathering a little momentum, and that GDP growth will improve further in Q4 from the 2.0 per cent pace of Q3.”
The White House as usual cautioned against reading too much into the monthly jobs and unemployment numbers because they can be volatile.
“While more work remains to be done, today's employment report provides further evidence that the US economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression,” said Alan Krueger, head of the president's Council of Economic Advisers.
Republican nominee Romney slammed the rise in the unemployment rate.
“Today's increase in the unemployment rate is a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill,” he said, noting the rate is higher than it was when Obama took office.
Details of the jobs report revealed a mixed picture of the labor market, where 18.8 million people remain either officially unemployed or have dropped out of the workforce.
The number of unemployed people, 12.3 million, increased slightly in October, following a dip in September.
The number of long-term unemployed, people without work for at least 27 weeks, rose by 158,000 in October to 5.0 million.
Those working part time for “economic reasons,” either because their hours have been cut back or they cannot find full-time, fell by 269,000 to 8.3 million.
“This brought down the broadest measure of labor market slack, the U-6 rate, which fell to 14.6 per cent, its lowest point since April. More workers are employed part-time by choice,” said Sophia Koropeckyj at Moody's Analytics.