WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. employers added 171,000 jobs in October, and hiring was stronger in August and September 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's gradually gaining momentum after nearly stalling in the spring.
Since July, the economy has created an average of 173,000 jobs a month. That's up from 67,000 a month from April through June.
On the Campaign Trail.....
That data fresh in hand, both candidates are plunging into a hectic pace of campaigning Friday, with Obama eager to fend off Romney in the key battleground of Ohio even as Romney pushed to expand the contest to other states, most notably Pennsylvania, to secure the 270 electoral votes needed to win.
The last incumbent president to face a jobless rate as high as 7.8 percent in October of an election year was Gerald Ford in his losing campaign against Jimmy Carter in 1976.
The number will give either Romney or Obama a data point with which to make a concluding case for or against the policies of the last four years. Still, the reports alone are unlikely to sway voters. Few if any remain undecided and they have shown throughout the year not to be susceptible to positive or negative monthly changes in the unemployment rate.
What's more, Friday's report will come amid other signs that the economy is on the mend. Most important, consumer confidence is up to its highest level since February of 2008, according to the Conference Board. Other signposts this week showed auto companies with sales gains in October and increases in factory orders and production.
"We're not where we all want to end up, but we are making serious important progress moving forward," Obama senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said on "CBS This Morning."
Ohio loomed large on the campaign calendar Friday, with Obama scheduling three stops in that crucial battleground. He also had larger rallies in more urban areas planned for the weekend. Romney was set to hold two rallies in Ohio - the second a large evening kickoff for the final weekend of campaigning.
Romney doesn't usually speak from a written text at campaign events but planned to outline his closing argument in prepared remarks at an event earlier Friday in Wisconsin.
But while Ohio was emerging as the most contested state in the final push to Election Day, Romney and the Republican Party were launching a new drive into Pennsylvania, a state that had been considered safely in Obama's column. Romney planned to campaign in the state Sunday and the Republican National Committee was putting $3 million in ads into the state.
Still, President Barack Obama will face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt. The rate rose in October because more people began seeking work and were counted as unemployed. The government counts people without jobs as unemployed only if they're looking for one.
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.
Friday's report included a range of encouraging details.
The government revised its data to show that 84,000 more jobs were added in August and September than previously estimated. The jobs gains in October were widespread across 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 than when Obama took office.
But there were also signs of the economy's persistent 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 effect on the report.
The economy has picked up a bit in recent weeks. Americans are 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.