Solid hiring expected in last pre-election US jobs report

WASHINGTON – The final jobs report before Americans choose a new president is expected to show that hiring was solid in October, consistent with a decent economy yet one also pocketed by weaknesses that have left many feeling left behind.

The steady hiring and a low unemployment rate have put the Federal Reserve on track to raise interest rates next month for the first time this year.

Economists have forecast that employers added 170,000 jobs in October, according to a survey by FactSet, a data provider. That would be slightly above September’s gain of 156,000 but in line with the average monthly increase so far this year of 178,000.

The unemployment rate is predicted to have dipped to 4.9 per cent from 5 per cent.

The Labor Department will issue the October jobs report at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.

Voters are heading to the polls with a resilient but often unsatisfying economy as a backdrop. Hiring has been strong for nearly three years. Yet wages for many are still rising at only a meagre pace, and millions of people are stuck in part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time work. The economy is growing at the slowest pace of any in a recovery since World War II.

The most recent economic reports have suggested that more of the same may lie ahead. Growth picked up to a 2.9 per cent annual rate in the July-September quarter, the government has estimated, much faster than the 1.1 per cent pace for the first half of the year. But most analysts foresee only modest expansion in the October-December quarter, leaving growth at an anemic rate of about 1.8 per cent for all of 2016.

Consumers — the U.S. economy’s primary fuel — are showing some staying power, even though their spending slowed in the July-September period. Consumer spending did rise at a robust pace in September alone.

Much of that spending was on higher-priced items, including cars and homes. Auto sales are running close to last year’s record high of more than 17 million. And while home sales have levelled off this year, they have done so at a nearly healthy level of 5.5 million.

Businesses, though, have been cutting back spending on machinery, computers and other equipment. They have reduced such spending for the past four quarters — the longest such stretch since the recession officially ended in mid-2009.

That slowdown may reflect jitters about the election and uncertainties about the next president’s economic policies.

The cutbacks have slowed factory output for the past year. Orders for manufactured goods have dropped 2.3 per cent in 2016 compared with last year. That’s a big reason factories have shed nearly 50,000 jobs in the past 12 months.