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June 24, 2017

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Crucial pre-election US payroll report looks to share the spoils

The last employment report before the U.S. presidential election is likely to have something for everyone — for those bullish and bearish on the economy and for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Nonfarm payrolls in October are forecast to have risen 124,000, barely more than September's 114,000 gain, according to 78 economists polled by Reuters. The unemployment rate probably edged back up to 7.9 percent after falling to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent last month. The figures are due on Friday.

On the face of it, that would reinforce the charge leveled by Romney, a Republican, that the policies of his Democratic opponent are to blame for the slowest post-recession recovery since the war.

The proportion of America's working-age population that is employed has fallen to 58.7 percent from 60.6 percent when the Democrat took office in January 2009.

But Obama can counter that nearly 800,000 more Americans are in work today than when he became president and that five million jobs have been created since the December 2009 trough, according to the Bureau for Labor Statistics.

In many respects, the job statistics are likely to paint the same blurred picture as Friday's report showing the economy expanded at a 2-percent rate in the third quarter: things are improving, but at a frustratingly slow pace.

"For this reason the labor market is currently neither weak enough to do serious damage to Obama's re-election chances nor strong enough to give him a boost," said Bernd Weidensteiner, an economist with Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

Opinion polls show the Nov. 6 election is too close to call.

Fiscal Cliff

Douglas Roberts, an economist with Standard Life Investments in Edinburgh, said a weaker-than-expected jobs report would not make him too concerned about the U.S. economy. Housing in particular was rebounding smartly, albeit from a low base.

But any softness would underline the urgency of eliminating policy uncertainty that is causing businessmen to sit on their hands, not least the prospect of tax increases and spending cuts that will kick in next year in the absence of a long-term agreement to cut America's budget deficit.

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