Americans are going back to work

Romney will have to look elsewhere for a last minute campaign boost. The economy added 171,000 jobs in October

By Andrew Leonard

Published November 2, 2012 1:08PM (EDT)

                   (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP/Carolyn Kaster)

It's all smiles in Chicago, and frowny faces in Boston.

If Mitt Romney was holding out hope that one last downbeat unemployment report would give his campaign some juice heading into the final weekend of the 2012 campaign, he is sure to be disappointed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday morning that the economy added 171,000 jobs in October, almost 50,000 more than had been expected by economists. The unemployment ticked up one meaningless notch, from 7.8 to 7.9 percent.

Indeed, this is a case where the rise in the unemployment rate is actually an encouraging sign. Total employment in the U.S., according to the BLS's household survey, rose by a very healthy 410,000, but the overall civilian labor force -- defined as the set of all Americans who have jobs or are looking for jobs -- surged by 578,000. The labor force participation rate, accordingly, rose to 63.8 percent. What that means is that Americans who had previously given up on the labor market are now actively looking for jobs again. The unemployment rate rose, paradoxically, because the job market is more encouraging.

The best news of all: hefty revisions to the job totals for August and September. August was revised up to 192,000 from 142,000, and September jumped from 114,000 to 148,000. These new numbers are substantially changing our perception of how the summer looked. If we recall, the initial jobs report for August only counted 96,000 new jobs, news that seemed to confirm a summer economic slowdown.

Of course, big  revisions for previous months imply that today's numbers will also change dramatically in the future, and we have no way of knowing right now whether that will be for the good or bad. But for the moment, it's clear that the average jobs gains over the last three months show  improvement over the average gains for the last two years, and that's a good position to be in. When revisions tend towards the upside, that's a sign of economic recovery.

If there's a single story to be gleaned from a closer look at the numbers, it's the confirmation that American consumers are alive and well. The retail trade sector added 36,000 jobs. Employment in "leisure and hospitality" added 28,000. Manufacturing, however, showed no growth, and government employment rolls fell again, by 13,000.

And that's it folks -- that's the last snapshot of the labor market we're going to get before the election. Here's hoping that we spend a lot less time over the next four years obsessing over the data delivered on the first Friday of each month, than we have over the last four.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2012 Elections Business Jobs Jobs Report Unemployment U.s. Economy