By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
WASHINGTON - U.S. employers added 171,000 jobs in October and 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.
The Labor Department's last look at hiring before Tuesday's election sketched a picture of a job market that is gradually gaining momentum after nearly stalling in the spring.
Since July, the economy has created an average of 173,000 jobs a month, up from 67,000 a month from April through June.
Still, President Barack Obama will face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt. The rate ticked up because more people without jobs started looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching.
Investors were pleased by the news. The Dow Jones industrial average futures were flat before it came out at 8:30 a.m. EDT, and within minutes they were up 30 points.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note climbed to 1.77 percent from 1.72 percent, a sign that investors were moving money out of bonds and into stocks.
Most of the details in the report were positive. The government revised the jobs figures to show that 84,000 more jobs were added than previously estimated.
The gains in October were widespread across most industries. And the percentage of Americans working or looking for work rose for the second straight month.
The economy has added jobs for 25 straight months. There are now 580,000 more jobs than when Obama took office.
But there were also signs of the economy's ongoing weakness. Average hourly pay dipped a penny to $23.58. And the number of unemployed increased 170,000 to 12.3 million.
The department said Hurricane Sandy had no noticeable impact on the report.
The economy has picked up a bit in recent weeks, mostly on the strength of consumers. Americans are more confident and buying more big-ticket items, like cars and appliances. Auto companies reported steady sales gains last month despite losing three days of business to the storm in heavily populated areas of the Northeast.
Yet businesses remain nervous about the economy's future course. Many are concerned that Congress will fail to reach a budget deal before January. If lawmakers can't strike an agreement, sharp tax increases and spending cuts will take effect next year and possibly trigger another recession.
American companies are also nervous about the economic outlook overseas. Europe's financial crisis has pushed much of that region into recession and cut into U.S. exports and corporate profits.