The better-than-expected U.S. jobs report today is providing fodder for the rival presidential candidates in the last weekend of their campaign, a race that has seen the Republicans try to portray President Barack Obama as an economy stifler and the Democrats play up employment gains over the last four years.
The U.S. added 171,000 jobs in October, the Labour Department said Friday, and hiring was stronger over the previous two months than first thought — by a further 84,000 positions.
"Today we learned that our companies have created more jobs in October than in any of the last five months," Obama told a crowd in Ohio after the report came out. "We've made real progress. But we've got more work to do.... As long as there's a child in the country who's languishing in poverty, barred from opportunity, our job is not done."
It was the 25th straight month of job gains for the country's economy, and there are now 580,000 more people employed than when Obama took office.
Still, challenger Mitt Romney pointed to weakness in the numbers to support his contention that the recovery from the recession of four years ago should have been stronger by now.
The unemployment rate inched up from 7.8 per cent to 7.9 per cent, an increase the Labour Department called "essentially unchanged," because more people were looking for work. The U.S. only counts people actively seeking employment as part of the labour force.
With the figure that high, Obama will face voters on Tuesday with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt — though it's largely a problem he inherited on assuming the Oval Office in 2009.
Contentious Ohio ads
Romney, also campaigning in Ohio, said the jobs report was a "sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill."
"Using every argument he can think of, President Obama has tried to convince folks that these last four years have been a success," Romney said. "He wants to take all the ideas from the first term — the stimulus, the borrowing and the Obamacare — and do it again for the next four years."
The Buckeye State loomed large on the campaign calendar on Friday, with Obama scheduling three stops in the crucial battleground and Romney two. The president also took on Romney directly over the Republican's new Ohio ads on the auto industry bailout.
The ads accuse Obama of taking General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy — something Romney himself had wanted — and selling Chrysler to an Italian company and building Jeeps in China. Chrysler and GM have protested the ads and disputed the suggestion that Jeep construction was being transferred overseas.
Obama said the Republican propaganda has spooked and confused auto workers in Ohio, where the industry accounts for one in eight jobs.
"They saw ads run by Gov. Romney saying Jeep jobs were going to be shipping to China. And of course it turns out it's not true. The car companies themselves have told Romney, 'knock it off,' " the Democratic candidate said in a speech in Springfield, Ohio.
Obama also has larger rallies in bigger Ohio cities planned for the weekend.
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.
Romney aides said they detected that Obama was underperforming in the southeastern counties around Pennsylvania, a usual Democratic stronghold, and in the working class area in and around Scranton.
Obama won the state handily in 2008, largely on the strength of his performance in the eastern part of the state. The RNC, however, says its voter outreach program has already exceeded its performance four years ago, with three times more phone calls and 23 times more door knocks than at this time in 2008.
Obama aides dismissed the eleventh-hour move as an act of desperation that underscored Romney's weakness in other battlegrounds but said the Democratic campaign would increase its ad purchases in the state to respond to the RNC incursion.