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U.S. employers added 261,000 jobs last month, indicating strong hiring but at a slower pace than the average monthly gain of 407,000 jobs experienced thus far in 2022. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate crept up by 0.2 percentage points to 3.7%, the federal government said Friday.

The monthly Employment Situation report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also showed October’s job gains were down from September’s upwardly revised figure of 315,000. The Federal Reserve Board has been closely watching the monthly jobs report to see if the labor market is softening, an indication of whether its policy of aggressively hiking interest rates to slow inflation is working.

Most economists had expected October job gains to be lower than the 261,000 reported. It is unclear if the new data will impact the course set by the Fed, which most recently hiked interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point on Nov. 1, the sixth rate increase of the year.

During October, the most notable job gains occurred in healthcare (+53,000), professional and technical services (+43,000), and manufacturing (+32,000). Employment in the leisure and hospitality industry also continued to trend upward (+35,000) in October. However, the industry still has 1.1 million fewer jobs (-6.5%) now compared to February 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The U.S. unemployment rate, now at 3.7%, has fluctuated between 3.5% and 3.7% since March. The number of unemployed persons rose by 306,000 to 6.1 million in October.

The labor-force participation rate, or the share of adults working or looking for work, decreased slightly to 62.2% in October from 62.3% in September. October’s labor-force participation rate is about 1.2 percentage points lower than before the pandemic began.

Average hourly earnings rose 0.4% in October from the previous month, up from 0.3% in September.