(CNNMoney) — Hiring was surprisingly strong in October, while the unemployment rate ticked higher, according to a report released just four days before the presidential election.
The economy added 171,000 jobs in October, and unemployment ticked up to 7.9%, from 7.8% in September, the Labor Department said Friday.
Economists surveyed by CNNMoney had expected employers to add 125,000 positions, so the boost in hiring was mostly seen as a positive surprise.
Another good sign was that job growth in recent months was even stronger than originally reported. The number of positions added in August and September were revised sharply higher, adding a combined 84,000 more jobs than first thought.
The rise in unemployment was expected by economists, and was mainly because more people entered the labor force, pushing up the share of the working-age population with a job. Some economists believe that September’s drop in unemployment encouraged those out of work to reenter the labor force.
The job gains were spread across varying industries. Professional and business services added 51,000 positions, while health care employment rose by 31,000. Retail and leisure and hospitality also boosted payrolls. Manufacturing was little changed and mining lost 9,000 jobs.
The report, the last before Tuesday’s election, will likely be picked apart by politicians as well as economists. September’s report, which showed an unexpected drop in the unemployment rate, prompted an outcry from Republican supporters, including Jack Welch, claiming the figure had been manipulated.
The monthly jobs report has taken on increased importance as the nation struggles to recover from the economic downturn. Roughly 12.3 million people remain unemployed, 40.6% of whom have been so for more than six months. And presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are centering much of the campaigns on who can create more jobs.
Romney swiftly issued a statement saying the report was “a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill.” He noted the jobless rate is higher than it was when Obama took office. In January 2009, the unemployment rate was 7.8%.
While many industries are adding jobs, the current tepid pace of growth is not enough to climb out of the jobs hole, economists said. Companies remain hesitant to boost payrolls. One of their main worries? How the president and Congress deal with the looming fiscal cliff.