COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney each got something Friday out of the final snapshot of the nation's economy heading into Election Day, with more job creation and an uptick in unemployment.
That data fresh in hand, both candidates were plunging into a hectic pace of campaigning, with Obama eager to fend off Romney in the key battleground of Ohio even as Romney pushed to expand the contest to other states, most notably Pennsylvania, to secure the 270 electoral votes needed to win.
The Labor Department's last look at hiring before the election showed U.S. employers added 171,000 jobs in October and that hiring was stronger over the previous two months than first thought. The unemployment rate inched up to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in September because the workforce grew.
As an economic marker, the report sketched a picture of a job market that is gradually gaining momentum after nearly stalling in the spring. More jobs were created than predicted, and the higher rate means more people are returning to the labor force since the government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching for work.
As a political marker, it gives Romney a data point to attack. Obama will face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt.
Still, the jobs report alone is unlikely to sway voters. Few if any remain undecided and they have shown throughout the year not to be susceptible to positive or negative monthly changes in the unemployment rate.
Friday's report comes amid other signs that the economy is on the mend. Most important, consumer confidence is up to its highest level since February of 2008, according to the Conference Board. Other signposts this week showed auto companies with sales gains in October and increases in factory orders and production.