Job growth, unemployment rate rise in October, as workers re-enter labor force

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The Washington Post
By:  Neil Irwin
November 2, 2012

Businesses picked up their pace of hiring in October and the unemployment rate rose as more people started looking for work, according to new government data that offer a glimmer of optimism for the long-ailing job market on the eve of the presidential election.

Employers reported adding 171,000 jobs in October, beating both analysts' expectations (125,000 jobs added) and September's job creation (a revised 148,000).

The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent, up from 7.8 percent, but the reason behind the uptick also points to improvement in the labor market. Some 578,000 more Americans counted themselves as part of the labor force, and only 410,000 more people reported having a job. In one welcome sign, the proportion of the population reporting that they had a job rose one-tenth of a percent to 58.8 percent. The Labor Department counts only those with jobs or looking for jobs as among the U.S. workforce.

The campaigns jumped on the numbers Tuesday, giving their spins on the final unemployment report before Tuesday's election.

White House economic adviser Alan Krueger credited President Obama's economic policies for the rise in hiring. "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. It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class..." he said in the White House blog. "The economy has now added private sector jobs for 32 straight months, and a total of 5.4 million jobs have been added during that period, taking account of the preliminary benchmark revision," Krueger said.

In a statement, Republican presidential nominee 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," the statement said, "and there are still 23 million Americans struggling for work."

Republicans have said that Obama hasn't done enough to improve the economy during his tenure. The number of people employed is virtually the same as when he took office in January 2009.

While October's numbers might not have the immediate political impact of the steep drop in unemployment recorded in September -- which quickly became fodder for the presidential campaign -- the details in these figures are more positive than those from four weeks ago.

The portrait the new numbers paint: Employers are adding jobs more briskly than they had over the summer, fast enough to bring down sky-high joblessness over time. That new round of hiring seems to be coaxing people back into the labor force, though not all of them are finding work, pushing the overall unemployment rate up a bit.

All that said, the rate of job creation is still well below what it was at the start of 2012, and even at the rate employers are now adding jobs, it will take years to bring unemployment down to more normal levels.

Reports have shown worrisome signs that businesses are pulling back and cutting capital spending, perhaps concerned about the approaching fiscal cliff and a slowing global economy. The new jobs numbers suggest that whatever their fears, firms are hiring at a stronger pace than they have for the last several months.

Indeed, private employment rose by even more than the overall job growth, up 184,000, as cuts by the U.S. Postal Service and state governments acted as a drag.

Job creation was strongest among retailers, who added 36,000 jobs; health care, which added 32,500 jobs; and leisure and hospitality employers, who added 28,000 positions. The construction industry reported a gain of 17,000 jobs, a welcome improvement that reflects a rebound in the housing industry.

Wages, however, were little changed, with the average workweek steady at 34.4 hours and average hourly earnings falling a penny to $23.58 an hour.

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