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Published: Saturday, 11/3/2012

Jobs and expectations

Americans will get starkly partisan views from Democrats and Republicans about the final snapshot of the U.S. economy before Tuesday’s election. Still, it’s hard to deny that, with 171,000 jobs added in October, the nation continues to recover, if slowly.

Even the slight increase in the U.S. jobless rate, from 7.8 percent to 7.9 percent, had an upside: It was caused by more people looking for work. People who don’t have a job but aren’t actively looking — so-called discouraged workers — aren’t officially counted as unemployed.

The steadily improving economy has given more people the confidence to look for a job, boosting the number of people in the labor force in October — those working or looking for work — by 578,000, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday. About 410,000 of them had found jobs. That means the number of officially unemployed Americans went up to 12.3 million.

Even more encouraging, workers found new jobs across the economy, including in manufacturing and the housing industry. Job gains came solely from the private sector, as governments lost 13,000 jobs.

Since July, the economy has created an average of 173,000 jobs a month. That’s more than double the rate of the three months before July, but still not enough to push the recovery into second gear.

The new employment figures, however, did encourage investors and send the stock market up. Consumer confidence has also picked up, with more Americans buying big-ticket items such as vehicles.

Three days before the election, the latest economic news isn’t as bad as Republicans portray; nor is it as good as Democrats will undoubtedly contend. And more uncertainty looms: If Congress and the President fail to reach a budget deal this year, tax increases and spending cuts could usher in another recession.

For now, steady job growth and increasing confidence in the labor market mean that the nation continues to move — slowly — in the right direction.

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