WASHINGTON — The United States added 171,000 jobs in October and more than a half-million Americans joined the work force, the government said Friday.
In addition, more jobs were added in August and September than believed.
But the unemployment rate inched up to 7.9 percent. A government survey of households found that 578,000 Americans joined the work force in October, the Labor Department said. Of those, 470,000 found work. The difference is why the unemployment rate rose from 7.8 percent in September.
A second government survey, of large companies and government agencies, yielded the 171,000 number. Companies added 184,000 jobs, the most since February, and federal, state, and local governments cut 13,000.
The government also revised its data to show that 84,000 more jobs were added in August and September than previously estimated. August’s job gain was revised to 192,000 from 142,000, and September’s to 148,000 from 114,000.
The report was the final snapshot of the economy before the election.
“The economy is in a lot better shape than most people believe,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. “That sets us up for stronger growth next year no matter who is elected on Tuesday.”
The political campaigns put their own spins jumped on the numbers Friday.
President Obama touted his stewardship of the economy.
“We’ve created 5.4 million new jobs, and this morning we learned companies hired more workers in October than any time in the last eight months,” Mr. Obama said at a rally in Hilliard, Ohio, a Columbus suburb.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney focused on the higher unemployment rate, calling it “sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill.”
“The jobless rate is higher than it was when President Obama took office,” Mr. Romney said, “and there are still 23 million Americans struggling for work.”
Consumer confidence in October reached its highest point in almost five years and stocks are within reach of record highs.
But big businesses are still cautious, partly because of slowing global demand for their goods.
For the third time since the recovery from the Great Recession began in June, 2009, the economy appears to be picking up momentum.
Since July, the economy has created an average of 173,000 jobs a month. That is up from an average of 67,000 a month from April through June.
The pickup in hiring suggests that businesses aren’t as worried as many analysts thought about the tax increases and spending cuts known as the “fiscal cliff” that will take effect unless Congress acts by Jan. 1.
James Marple, an economist at TD Bank, said hiring could take off next year if the fiscal cliff is avoided. “The fact that businesses are continuing to expand even with huge fiscal uncertainty means that once this cloud lifts, the pace of job creation has lots of room to accelerate,” he said.
One big question is whether consumers will be able to keep spending enough to propel growth. Average hourly wages rose 1.1 percent in the last 12 months, the slowest annual pace on records dating back to 1965.
The report allowed Mr. Obama to argue that the economy has added jobs for 25 consecutive months, since September, 2010, and that the private sector has added jobs for 32 consecutive months, since February, 2010.
The report allowed the Romney campaign, however, to argue that the unemployment rate will be higher on Election Day than it was on Inauguration Day in January, 2009, when it was 7.8 percent.
Mr. Obama will face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt. The rate was 7.8 when Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976 and was 7.2 percent when Ronald Reagan trounced Walter Mondale in 1984.
The unemployment rate has fallen a full percentage point in the past year. But some of that was because people gave up looking for work and therefore were no longer counted as unemployed. That pushed the proportion of Americans working or looking for work to 63.5 percent in August, a 31-year low.
Since then, more Americans have started or resumed job hunts, and most have found work. The proportion of Americans working or looking for work rose for a second straight month in October to 63.8 percent.
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