Published December 20, 2015
Three days after voters registered their sourness about the U.S. economy, the government said Friday that employers added a solid 214,000 jobs in October, extending the healthiest pace of hiring in eight years.
The Labor Department also said 31,000 more jobs were added in August and September than it had previously estimated. Employers have now added at least 200,000 jobs for nine straight months, the longest such stretch since 1995.
The burst of hiring lowered the unemployment rate to 5.8 percent from 5.9 percent. It is the lowest rate since July 2008.
Along with the job gains, economic growth has accelerated this year. Yet despite the improvement, voters identified economic anxiety as their top concern in Tuesday's elections. That suggests the improvement hasn't yet been felt by many Americans.
Nearly 60 percent of voters said they thought the economy was stagnating or worsening. Only one-third saw it as improving.
But the picture has brightened enough that the Federal Reserve announced last month that it was ending its bond purchase program, which had been intended to lower interest rates and stimulate economic growth.
One likely reason for voters' concern is that paychecks are still rising at sluggish pace. Average hourly pay rose 3 cents in October to $24.57. That's just 2 percent higher than it was 12 months earlier, only slightly ahead of the 1.7 percent inflation rate.
And what wage gains have occurred have benefited mainly the wealthy. Average income grew 10 percent from 2010 through 2013 for the wealthiest one-tenth of Americans, after adjusting for inflation, according to the Fed. For everyone else, incomes stagnated or declined.
Still, the job market's improvement prompted more Americans to start looking for work last month. The percentage of Americans with jobs or looking for one ticked up in October to 62.8 percent. And 267,000 of those out of work were hired, lowering the unemployed population to just under 9 million.
The job gains were broad-based, though many lower-paying industries posted large increases. Retailers added 27,100 jobs, while restaurants, hotels and entertainment firms gained 52,000.
Some higher-paying industries also showed progress. Manufacturers added 15,000 jobs, up from 9,000 the previous month. Transportation and shipping companies gained 13,300. And professional and business services, which includes accountants, engineers and other higher-skilled fields, added 37,000.
Analysts say the economic expansion remains strong enough to support the current pace of hiring. Over the past six months, the economy has grown at a 4.1 percent annual rate.
U.S. manufacturers are expanding at the fastest pace in three years, according to a survey by the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group. A measure of new orders showed that factory output will likely continue to grow in coming months. A separate survey by the ISM found that retailers, restaurants and other service companies grew at a healthy pace last month.
Home sales rose in September at their fastest rate this year, a sign that housing could pick up after a sluggish performance for most of this year.
Still, faltering global growth could create trouble for the U.S. economy in the months ahead. Exports fell in September, the government said this week, widening the trade deficit. That led many economists to shave their predictions of economic growth in the July-September quarter to an annual rate of 3 percent or less, down from the government's initial estimate of 3.5 percent.