The United States added 171,000 jobs in October, far more than expected, though the jobless rate rose as the labor force expanded, the government said Friday in a crucial look at the economy four days ahead of the presidential election.
The unemployment rate edged up to 7.9 percent, after a surprising three-point drop in September to 7.8 percent, the same level when Obama took office in January 2009.
The encouraging Labor Department report provided a final snapshot of a slowly improving economy as President Barack Obama battles for re-election Tuesday in a neck-and-neck race against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Muddling growth and high unemployment are uppermost on Americans' minds as they head to the polls.
Most analysts had forecast the higher jobless rate, but job growth far outpaced their consensus estimate of 125,000.
Nigel Gault, chief US economist at IHS Global Insight, said the report gave both presidential candidates something to grab onto.
"President Obama can point to faster job creation, while Governor Romney can say that the unemployment rate is higher now than in January 2009 when the president took office," Gault said.
"On balance the report is better than expected, which should help the incumbent, but not sufficiently so to be a game-changer."
The effects of Hurricane Sandy, the deadly storm that ravaged the eastern seaboard on Monday and Tuesday, were not reflected in the jobs report, calculated on surveys of businesses and households in mid-month.
The Labor Department's sharp revisions to previous months' numbers showed a substantial improvement in job growth since mid-2012.
The department raised its estimates for August and September net new jobs by 33 percent.
The three-month average suggests a job creation trend that is picking up pace: the US added 170,000 jobs per month over August-October, compared with 104,000 in the May-July period.
The private sector again led the way with growth in professional and business services, health care and the retail sector.
A net 184,000 private-sector jobs were added in October, a jump of 44 percent from September and the best growth since February, while governments pared 13,000.
The struggling manufacturing sector gained 13,000 jobs.
The White House as usual cautioned against reading too much into the monthly numbers because they can be volatile.
"While more work remains to be done, today's employment report provides further evidence that the US economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression," said Alan Krueger, head of the president's Council of Economic Advisers.
Republican nominee Romney slammed the rise in the unemployment rate.
"Today's increase in the unemployment rate is a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill," he said, noting the rate is higher than it was when Obama took office.
Details of the report gave a mixed picture of the labor market, where 18.8 million people remain either officially unemployed or have dropped out of the workforce.
The number of unemployed people -- 12.3 million -- increased slightly in October, following a dip in September.
The number of long-term unemployed, people without work for at least 27 weeks, rose by 158,000 in October to 5.0 million.
But those working part time for "economic reasons," either because their hours have been cut back or they cannot find full-time, fell by 269,000 to 8.3 million.
"This brought down the broadest measure of labor market slack -- the U-6 rate, which fell to 14.6 percent, its lowest point since April. More workers are employed part-time by choice," said Sophia Koropeckyj at Moody's Analytics.