The midterm elections are days away, and Friday's jobs report will give voters a final glimpse of the strength of the economy.
It's expected to be the 97th straight month of job gains. And the economy is currently in one of the longest expansions in modern U.S. history.
Economists, investors and the Federal Reserve hope the monthly jobs report coming out Friday morning will answer three big questions:
- Did hiring bounce back?
- Is wage growth finally accelerating?
- And did a nearly 50-year-low unemployment rate attract more people to get off the sidelines and get back into the workforce?
A rebound in job creation in October is widely expected. Economists project the economy added around 200,000 jobs last month. That would be well above the 134,000 jobs racked up in September. That number was somewhat depressed compared with prior months because of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged North and South Carolina.
"The number of jobs added should stage a solid rebound after hurricane-related impacts dampened the last reading," said Mark Hamrick, Bankrate's senior economic analyst.
But there was another devastating storm in October, Hurricane Michael. And some economists think that it may have hurt hiring last month.
Wage growth, which has remained sluggish during the recovery, will once again be heavily scrutinized in Friday's report. Even a relatively modest monthly increase in October would push up the 12-month gain in wages to 3.1 percent. That would be a notable jump for wages in these years after the recession. In September, wages were up 2.8 percent compared with the prior year.
But even a 3.1 percent wage gain would still be considered moderate. And it's unlikely to change the Fed's strategy of gradually increasing interest rates.
"The moderate improvement in wage growth keeps the Fed on track to hike again in December, and enables them to transition to a slower pace of rate increases next year," economist Mickey Levy of Berenberg Capital Markets said.
But a large jump in wages could roil financial markets, which have been seesawing, as investors fear more aggressive rate increases amid a strengthening economy.
Labor force participation
One of the most positive signs for workers in all these job data has been the 7.1 million job openings in the U.S. economy. That's more jobs than the 6 million people officially unemployed under the government's primary measure of joblessness. Employers know this well, as they continue to struggle to fill openings.
But the surplus of jobs available may have attracted more workers from the sidelines into the workforce. That could keep the unemployment rate steady at 3.7 percent, a near 50-year low. That's what most economists expect, according to surveys.