U.S. employment rose less than expected in October, but a drop in the jobless rate to a six-month low of 9.0 percent and upward revisions to prior months' job gains pointed to underlying strength in the labor market.
Nonfarm payrolls rose 80,000 last month, the Labor Department said on Friday, missing economists' expectations for a gain of 95,000. However, figures for August and September were revised to show 102,000 more jobs than previously reported.
In addition, the decline in the jobless rate from 9.1 percent in September came even as more people entered the labor force. While job growth last month was less than expected, details of the report suggested the economy was gaining some momentum.
The labor market is the Achilles heel of the economic recovery, and progress at putting 13.9 million unemployed Americans back to work remains painfully slow.
It is a challenge for President Barack Obama, who faces a tough fight for re-election next year, though signs of a modest improvement could buy the Federal Reserve extra time before loosening monetary policy further to aid growth.
The U.S. central bank on Wednesday lowered its growth forecasts and raised its projections for unemployment. While the Fed announced no new measures to stimulate the economy, it said it was considering the possibility of additional mortgage debt purchases.
But with fears of another recession receding, the pressure for more monetary policy stimulus has eased somewhat. Europe's debt crisis could, however, push the recovery off the rails.
The debt crisis, which has rattled global financial markets and pushed consumer confidence to recession levels, remains far from being resolved, and investors are keeping a close eye on developments in Greece.
The Obama administration has struggled to come up with policies to generate sufficient employment amid stiff opposition from Republicans.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke took lawmakers to task on Wednesday after the U.S. central bank concluded its two-day policy meeting. It would be helpful if we could get assistance from some other parts of the government to work with us to help create more jobs, he said.
LACKLUSTER JOB GROWTH
While the economy is now in its second year of recovery, only a fraction of the more than 8 million jobs lost during the recession have been recovered.
The economy needs to expand at an annual rate of at least 2.5 percent over a sustained period and consistently add roughly 125,000 jobs to keep unemployment from rising.
Growth accelerated to a 2.5 percent rate in the third quarter from a tepid 1.3 percent in the prior period.
Private employers added 104,000 jobs last month, offsetting a drop in government payrolls of 24,000. Public employment has fallen nearly every month this year as state and local governments grapple with budget constraints.
In the private sector, job gains last month were almost across the board, though construction fell 10,000 after a surprise addition of 29,000 jobs in September.
Manufacturing payrolls rose 5,000 after a slight decline in September. In the service sector, retail employment 17,800, adding to the prior month's gains.
There were also gains in professional and business services, and temporary hiring which rose 15,000. Hiring in the health care and social assistance sector, which has been boosted by the swelling ranks of retirees, rose 16,300. However, the gain was less than the prior months.
The average workweek was steady at 34.3 hours and hourly earnings rose 5 cents.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Leslie Adler)