Election Day has arrived. As a campaign dominated by concerns about the economy draws to a close, the latest numbers show the unemployment rate at 7.9 percent in October, a slight increase from the previous month's 7.8 percent.
Bad news for Obama? Probably not. Let's look more closely at the numbers.
The number of unemployed people in October was about 170,000 higher than in September. Much of this increase, however, was caused by an influx of 578,000 people into the labor force over the same month. In September, as well, the labor force expanded, adding 418,000 workers and jobseekers.
A growing labor force is generally considered a sign or rising economic optimism, as those who had given up on finding work re-enter the job market. In fact, the number of people identifying themselves as "discouraged workers" fell 16 percent between October 2011 and last month.
But when these workers join (or re-join) the labor force, they mightn't find work right away, causing a slight uptick in the unemployment rate.
In more positive news, the country's employers added 171,000 jobs last month, with gains concentrated in the professional and business services, health care, and retail sectors. Furthermore, the jobs numbers for the previous two months were revised upwards. According to the latest estimates, employers added 34,000 more jobs in September than initially reported; in August, 52,000 more jobs than originally reported were added.
The news was not all good, however. Nearly 12.3 million people remain unemployed, 5 million of whom have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Young adults, black workers, and those without a high school degree continue to struggle with particularly high levels of unemployment.
And if jobs keep growing at a steady pace of 170,000 per month – the approximate average over the past three months – the country will not return to full employment until 2024, according to a calculator on the website of economic policy think tank The Hamilton Project.