When the unemployment rate in September fell to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent, both enthusiasts and skeptics wondered whether it was a stroke of extraordinary luck for President Obama or part of an improving trend. The October jobs report released by the Labor Department on the Friday before Election Day showed that while the national unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 7.9 percent, the nation's economy is definitely on the mend. The African-American unemployment rate, however, rose to 14.3 percent from 13.4 percent in September.
"While more work remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007," said Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
Employers added 171,000 jobs, which is significantly more than the 135,000 that economists surveyed by Reuters had predicted. A monthly gain of 150,000 new jobs is needed to keep unemployment from rising and to offset the number of new people entering the workforce.
"The economy is growing and there are a lot of positive signs across all aspects, including the housing and auto sectors and consumer expenditures," Georgia Tech economist Thomas Boston told BET.com.
He and other economists attribute the small increase in the national unemployment rate to the fact that the number of people looking for jobs also has increased, which is a sign that they're feeling more optimistic about their prospects.
The implications for the presidential race could be significant. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has used what he views as Obama's weak stewardship of the economy as the number one reason to not re-elect the president.
“Today’s increase in the unemployment rate is a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill. 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," said Republican Mitt Romney in a statement after the report was released.
But Boston believes that if not for Obama, the economy would perhaps be in a more critical condition.
"A Republican president would not likely have intervened in the economy with stimulus measures or been as supportive of the Federal Reserve putting in place all kinds of monetary measures to help it grow," he said. "There's still a lot of uncertainty, but the tendency of a Republican would have been to continue to give the financial and corporate sectors a free hand in doing as they pleased, which would have led us back down the road from where we've come. [Obama's] interventions were essential in terms of turning the economy around."
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(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)