WASHINGTON (AP) - The American economy added 80,000 jobs in October, and job growth in the two previous months was much stronger than first thought, an encouraging sign as the nation searches for a way out of the jobs crisis.
The unemployment rate dropped to 9 percent from 9.1 percent, the first time it has fallen since July and the lowest rate since April, the government said Friday.
"Those are pretty good signs," said Michael Hanson, senior economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "We're hanging in there."
Economists surveyed by FactSet, a provider of financial data, had expected a gain of 100,000 jobs. It takes a gain of about 125,000 jobs a month to keep up with population growth, more to bring down the unemployment rate.
The private sector added 104,000 jobs for the month.
The overall jobs figure was the smallest in four months. Still, there were smaller, more encouraging signs in the government's monthly snapshot of unemployment, one of the most closely watched economic reports.
The Labor Department said the economy added 102,000 more jobs in August and September than first thought. And the ranks of the long-term unemployed, people out of a job for at least six months, fell sharply to 5.9 million.
Those signs further ease fears of a new recession, which had loomed over the economy this past summer. Europe is wrestling with a debt crisis, however, and even if it dodges catastrophe, a recession there would be a drag on the U.S. economy.
The job market turned consistently negative in February 2008. The nation lost jobs for 25 months in a row - almost 8.8 million of them in all. Since then, the economy has only recovered 2.3 million jobs.
The unemployment rate has hovered around 9 percent for more than two years, and the Federal Reserve said this week that it will is not expected to fall significantly through the end of next year.
That means President Barack Obama will almost certainly go before voters next November seeking a second term with the highest unemployment of any sitting president since World War II.
Obama, appearing at the G-20 economic summit in Cannes, France, said the U.S. economy is growing "way too slow." He repeated his call for Republicans in Congress to pass his $447 billion jobs bill, a mix of tax cuts and spending on roads and rail lines.
"There's no excuse for inaction," the president said.
Republicans in the Senate on Thursday defeated the infrastructure portion of Obama's proposal. GOP lawmakers opposed the bill's tax surcharge on the wealthy and the additional spending.
Republicans laid blame on Obama and Democrats in Congress.
"At virtually every step of the way, President Obama and Democrats have increased uncertainty," said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. "This has discouraged businesses from making new investments."
Hiring last month was broad. Professional and business services, which includes the accounting, engineering, and temporary help industries, added 32,000 jobs. Hotels, restaurants, and entertainment companies added 22,000. Health care added 12,000.
The construction sector cut 20,000 jobs for the month, the most since January. That industry is examined closely because a pickup in the housing market could add force to the economic recovery.