Final election-season report: U.S. adds 171k jobs, unemployment rate stays below 8 percent

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After rumors that the final jobs report before Election Day might be delayed by Hurricane Sandy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the report, on schedule, this morning.

The report estimates the country added 171,000 jobs in October, with the unemployment rate ticking up slightly to 7.9 percent.

That qualifies as a minor victory for President Obama, who has been touting his 24 (now 25) consecutive months that the economy has added jobs as evidence of a slow but steady economic growth.

It exceeds more modest estimates, and also keeps unemployment beneath the magical 8 percent threshold, which Mitt Romney had previously made a staple of his criticism of the president.

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But the increase in unemployment, even by one-tenth of a percent, could make for a new line in Romney's closing argument too, in the final sprint to the election.

Employment growth has averaged about 157,000 new jobs per month in 2012, up slightly from 2011, when the economy added an average of 153,000 jobs per month, according to the report.

There were gains in professional and business services, health care and retail trade, but manufacturing remained steady, and is essentially unchanged since April.

The survey was conducted before Hurricane Sandy and the report says the hurricane "had no discernable effect on the employment and unemployment data for October."

UPDATE: “Today’s increase in the unemployment rate is a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill," Mitt Romney said in a statement reacting to the report. "The jobless rate is higher than it was when President Obama took office, and there are still 23 million Americans struggling for work. On Tuesday, America will make a choice between stagnation and prosperity."