WASHINGTON — The final U.S. jobs report before Tuesday’s midterm elections is expected to show that employers are still hiring at a healthy pace. Whether it will make much difference to voters at this point is another matter.
Economists have forecast that the government will report Friday that the economy added a solid 190,000 jobs in October and that the unemployment rate remained at a 49-year low of 3.7 percent, according to a survey by data provider FactSet.
That gain would be only slightly below the monthly average of 208,000 so far this year but would mark a rebound from the 134,000 jobs added in September. The September gain, though, was depressed by the impact of Hurricane Florence. Economists think Hurricane Michael, which tore through Florida and Georgia last month, had a much weaker impact.
Consumers are generally confident, spending freely and propelling brisk economic growth. The resulting strength in customer demand has led companies to steadily add workers. Though economists predict that hiring will eventually slow as the pool of unemployed Americans dwindles, there’s no sign of that happening yet. The U.S. economy is in its 10th year of expansion, the second-longest such period on record. October will also mark 100 straight months of hiring, a record streak.
Still, another month of healthy job growth might not tip many votes in the midterm elections. Polls have suggested that while Americans generally approve of the economy’s performance, that sentiment hasn’t necessarily broadened support for President Donald Trump or Republican congressional candidates.
In October, consumer confidence reached its highest point in 18 years, propelled by optimism about the job market. Last month’s plunge in stock prices didn’t dampen Americans’ enthusiasm, though the survey was conducted in the first half of October, before the full market decline had occurred.
In the July-September quarter, consumer spending grew by the most in four years and helped the economy expand at a 3.5 percent annual rate. That growth followed a 4.2 percent annual pace in the April-June quarter. Combined, the two quarters produced the strongest six-month stretch of growth in four years.
Manufacturing output and hiring remain healthy, according to a survey by a private trade association, although increased tariffs have raised factory costs.
By contrast, housing remains a weak spot in the economy, with sales of existing homes having fallen for six straight months as mortgage rates have risen to nearly 5 percent. But slower sales have started to limit home price increases, which had been running at more than twice the pace of wage gains.
There are signs that pay growth is picking up. A measure of wage and salaries rose 3.1 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, the best such showing in a decade.
Although pay increases can help boost spending and propel the economy’s growth, they can also lead companies to raise prices to cover their higher labor costs. That trend, in turn, can accelerate inflation.
So far, though, inflation remains in check. The Federal Reserve’s preferred price measure rose 2 percent in September compared with a year earlier, slightly lower than the year-over-year increase in August.
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