WASHINGTON -- U.S. employers added 171,000 jobs in October, and hiring was stronger in August and September than first thought. The solid job growth showed that the economy is strengthening slowly but consistently.

The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in September. That was mainly because many more people began looking for work, and not all of them found jobs. The government uses a separate survey to calculate the unemployment rate, and it counts people without jobs as unemployed only if they're looking for one.

Friday's report was the last major snapshot of the economy before Tuesday's elections. It's unclear what political effect the report might have. By now, most voters have made up their minds, particularly about the economy, analysts say.

Since July, the economy has created an average of 173,000 jobs a month, up from 67,000 a month from April through June.

The workforce -- the number of people either working or looking for work -- rose by 578,000 in October. And 410,000 more people said they were employed.

The influx of people seeking jobs "could be a sign that people are starting to see better job prospects and so should be read as another positive aspect to the report," said Julia Coronado, an economist at BNP Paribas.

Friday's report included a range of encouraging details.

The government revised its data to show that 84,000 more jobs were added in August and September than previously estimated. August's job gains were revised from 142,000 to 192,000, September's from 114,000 to 148,000.

The unemployment rate has fallen a percentage point in the past 12 months. Much of that decline occurred because people gave up looking for work. That pushed the percentage of Americans working or looking for work to 63.5 percent in August, a 31-year low.

But since then, more Americans have started or resumed their job hunts and most have found work. The percentage of Americans working or looking for work rose for a second straight month in October to 63.8 percent.

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The number of people with part-time jobs who wanted full-time work dropped last month. The number of discouraged workers also declined. A measure of unemployment that includes those two groups plus the unemployed dipped to 14.6 percent from 14.7 percent.

The economy has added jobs for 25 straight months. There are now 580,000 more than when Obama took office.

But there were also signs of the economy's persistent weakness. Average hourly pay dipped a penny to $23.58. In the past year, average hourly pay for most workers rose 1.1 percent, the smallest annual gain on records dating back to 1965.

Because more people sought jobs than found one, the number of unemployed rose 170,000 to 12.3 million. That pushed up the unemployment rate.

The October jobs report was compiled before superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast earlier this week and devastated many businesses.