WASHINGTON — U.S. employers added 171,000 jobs in October, and hiring was stronger in August and September than first thought. The solid job growth showed that the economy is strengthening slowly but consistently.
The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in September. That was mainly because many more people began looking for work, and not all of them found jobs. The government uses a separate survey to calculate the unemployment rate, and it counts people without jobs as unemployed only if they’re looking for one.
Friday’s report was the last major snapshot of the economy before Tuesday’s elections. It’s unclear what political effect the report might have. By now, all but a few voters have made up their minds, particularly about the economy, analysts say.
Since July, the economy has created an average of 173,000 jobs a month. That’s up from 67,000 a month from April through June. Still, President Barack Obama will face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt and slightly higher than the 7.8 percent on Inauguration Day.
The work force — the number of people either working or looking for work — rose by 578,000 in October. And 410,000 more people said they were employed. The difference is the reason the unemployment rate rose slightly.
The influx of people seeking jobs “could be a sign that people are starting to see better job prospects and so should be read as another positive aspect to the report,” said Julia Coronado, an economist at BNP Paribas.
During a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, Obama said the job figures show the economy is slowly healing.
“We’ve made real progress, but we are here today because we know we’ve got more work to do,” Obama said. “Our fight goes on.”
But GOP challenger Mitt Romney pointed out to voters that the unemployment rate is now higher than when Obama took office.