In the final monthly jobs report before Election Day, the government today said the U.S. unemployment rate for October ticked up to 7.9 percent.
The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. economy added 171,000 jobs, stating that the number of unemployed Americans was essentially unchanged in October at 12.3 million.
"We still have a long way to go but this is a step in the right direction," said Stephen Bronars, chief economist of Welch Consulting.
Analysts had expected around 125,000 added jobs, according to Bloomberg News.
Bronars said October's jobs report was positive despite the unemployment rate increase, because more people resumed looking for work. He called the 171,000 jobs added "solid" and noted there were upward revisions to the reports of the past two months.
The unemployment rate for September was 7.8 percent. In Friday's report, the BLS revised September's nonfarm payroll employment to 148,000 jobs added from the previously announced 114,000. August's figure was changed to 192,000 from 142,000 jobs added.
There were also increases in the employment-to-population ratio, at 58.8 percent, and the labor force participation rate, 63.8 percent, after both of the rates had stalled in the summer, he said.
The participation rate has fallen by about two percentage points over the past 46 months. Health care and business and professional services continue to be strong performers in the U.S. economy. Educated workers face an improving labor market while employment for adults with a high school degree or less has fallen by 381,000 in the past year.
Payroll provider ADP Thursday said private employers added 158,000 jobs in October, larger than September's revised gain of 114,000.
Meanwhile, applications for unemployment benefits were 363,000, seasonally adjusted, for the week ending Oct. 27, down 9,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The Labor Department also reported Thursday U.S. worker productivity grew at a modest 1.9 percent in the third quarter, up slightly from the 1.3 percent growth from April to June.
"The information seems to be that the economy has rebounded a little bit from the growth rate of the second quarter, but not much," said Gary Burtless, labor economist with the Brookings Institution.
The Commerce Department reported last week that the U.S. GDP grew at 2 percent in the third quarter, only slightly better than the 1.8 percent consensus figure.
"While the economy is growing, the labor market is not getting worse and it's not getting better at a fast rate," Burtless said. "This is a slow recovery in the economy with slow growth in labor."
While the millions of people without jobs are struggling to find one, those with jobs do not face any particular risk of layoffs just yet, Burtless said.
But many business owners fear "the fiscal cliff," a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that are scheduled to take place at the end of the year because of the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Friday's jobs report might include only the early effects of superstorm Sandy, which began to batter the East Coast most on Monday.
Burtless said the effects of the unusual weather on employment will be unclear until more companies assess their situation.
While some small businesses might have scaled back or closed operations, other industries, such as construction, will be boosted by recovery efforts.
Friday's jobs report showed employment in construction increased in October but it still remains weak, Bronars said. Construction employment is down by one million since January 2009 and by more than 2 million since the pre-recession peak.
When comparing Hurricane Katrina with Sandy, Burtless said the short-term employment impact of the former was "terrible" because many people in the manufacturing, tourism and maritime industries suffered immediate job losses.
"During Hurricane Katrina, the economy was much more robust. This time around, construction is flat on its back. There are a lot of businesses who would want to know more business and a lot of workers who want to be hired," Burtless said.
Burtless also doubted that Friday's labor numbers will influence voters for a particular candidate.
October's report means the unemployment rate is higher than the 7.8 percent when President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009.
"My sense is that 98 percent of voters are people whose assessment of the president and challenger is mostly baked into the cake already," Burtless said. "They know what their own personal situation is. They know what their family and friends' situations are. To the degree that the economy affects their choice of incumbent or challenger, that has been determined."