By TOM RAUM
For President Barack Obama, the final government jobs report before Election Day could have been worse. It also could have been better.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced solid job growth of 171,000 workers in October and said hiring was stronger in August and September than first reported.
But the unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent. That was mostly due to an increase in those seeking work - but it handed fresh ammunition to Republicans.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney called it "a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill."
"Unemployment is higher today than when Barack Obama took office," he told a rally in West Allis, Wis. "Think of that."
The jobless rate was 7.8 percent in January 2009 when Obama was inaugurated, but has been trending down since peaking at just over 10 percent in late 2009.
Economists suggested the October jobs survey - along with recent improvements in retail sales, consumer spending and manufacturing - show a slowly but steadily recovering economy, not one at a standstill.
The new numbers allow Obama to dodge the bullet that a truly bad jobs report could have presented just four days out.
At a rally in Hilliard, Ohio, the president said the new report shows "real progress," the best in eight months, but added that, "We know we have more work to do."
There may not be many voters swayed by Friday's report. Some 23 million Americans have already voted either by mail or in person, and polls show an ever-shrinking number of the truly undecided.
But that also makes the remaining few even more coveted as Obama and Romney engage in final whirlwind cross-country weekend dashes through battleground states to win over wavering voters and to energize core supporters.
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