Economy adds 171K jobs; rate rises to 7.9 percent in October

The last employment report before Election Day found the economy added 171,000 jobs in October, more than had been expected. 

The report also revised job growth figures for August and September up by 84,000, suggesting economic growth picked up in the late summer and fall after a sluggish spring.

While the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9 percent from 7.8, so did the labor force participation rate, suggesting more people believe they can find work. The labor force rose by 578,000 in October, with the labor force participation rate edging up to 63.8 percent. 

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No president has won reelection with an unemployment rate as high as 7.9 percent since President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Unemployment fell below 8 percent for the first time in President Obama's term in September.

The economy and jobs remain the biggest issue in the election between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, who has argued Obama's policies have exacerbated sluggish growth. 

“Today’s increase in the unemployment rate is a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill," Romney said Friday in reaction to the report. "We can do better. We can have real economic growth, create millions of good-paying jobs and give middle-class families the security and opportunity they deserve."

Obama retorts that Romney would return the U.S. to the policies he said launched the recession. 

Both Obama and Romney have a busy day scheduled for the campaign trail on Friday, with multiple stops in different swing states. 

Obama is hoping that rising job growth in the months leading up to Election Day will convince voters that the economy is moving in the right direction and that he deserves another four years in office. 

"While more work remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression," said Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. "It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007."

The report comes just four days before Election Day, and it is unclear how much it might sway voters, many of whom might be locked in on their preferred candidate. 

"I don’t think voters ultimately make up their minds based on jobs reports," said Margie Omero, a Democratic pollster and head of Momentum Analysis.

"It’s about how they feel personally. So the jobs report is a reflection of voters’ own perceptions, not a driver of those perceptions."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics report was released on schedule despite Hurricane Sandy, which had prompted speculation the final report before Election Day might be delayed. The bureau said the hurricane had no effect on the report.

Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody's Analytics, said the report was positive because of job growth across a broad range of sectors, especially construction, which saw an addition of 17,000 jobs.

But he cautioned the growth might subside if Congress does not solve the fiscal issues it is facing, including the debt limit along with looming tax increases and spending cuts set to go into effect in January.

"What we need to do is very clear and now we have to execute or businesses will remain very concerned and worried about what's going to happen," he said.

This story was updated at 9:48 a.m.