The last official snapshot of the economy before Americans vote on Tuesday offered another reminder of the labor market’s persistent strength. Hiring is up. Wages are up. The total number of workers and job searchers is up.
“It’s really the strongest part of the broader economy at the moment,” Michelle Girard, chief United States economist at NatWest Markets, said of the labor market.
A swerving stock market, tariffs and weakening growth in other countries may be causing agita, but they have done little to dent economic momentum in the United States.
Employers added 250,000 jobs in October, extending a record streak of growth to 97 months, the Labor Department reported on Friday.
The economy has historically not played an outsize role in midterm elections, and this political season, border control, health care and Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court have gobbled up airtime and political ad space.
Still, about three-quarters of registered voters say the economy is “very important” in determining their vote, according to polls conducted by the Pew Research Center. Among Republicans, that number is even higher at 85 percent.
“Jobs and the economy” was also cited more frequently than other issues as the most important in a survey conducted in early October for The New York Times by the online research platform SurveyMonkey.
A recent string of reports suggests both are in good shape. Last week, the government estimated that the economy grew at a hearty annualized rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter.
Confidence remains high among consumers and business leaders. Over the past year, employers have added an average of 210,000 jobs a month.
Friday’s roundup also offered evidence that sidelined workers are not only feeling optimistic about job prospects but are actually finding work, which is why the jobless rate was unchanged at 3.7 percent even as employers hired more people.
An estimated 711,000 people joined the labor force last month. President Trump, on Friday, called the numbers “tremendous.”
A modest monthly wage gain of 0.2 percent nonetheless produced a surprisingly big 3.1 percent jump in annual growth. That was partly because of an unusual drop in pay in October last year after hurricanes.
Yet even if the year-over-year increase was somewhat inflated, the underlying trends point to a pickup in wage growth.
Some analysts saw warnings of inflation, but others said the pay increase should not bother policymakers at the Federal Reserve. “I don’t think it’s something the Fed should worry about,” Ms. Girard said. “Productivity growth is picking up, and workers should earn more. It doesn’t mean companies have to pass on higher wage costs to consumers. They can afford to pay them more.”
The Fed, which has increased rates three times this year from historically low levels, is expected to raise them again to 2.5 percent in December as a hedge against inflation.
Mr. Trump has called the Fed “loco” and “out of control” for raising interest rates, and blamed it for the recent drop in stock prices and for potentially derailing the economy.
In a call with reporters, Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, cited productivity growth as the explanation for higher wages, and not an overheating economy.
He also took the opportunity to say that the president respects the Fed’s independence.
As always, the monthly jobs report captures only a particular moment; the underlying trend is what’s important. That caution is particularly pertinent this time.