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BY BILL FREEHLING
The much-anticipated U.S. jobs report released Friday mirrors the recent trend in the Fredericksburg area: an economy that is strengthening slowly but consistently.
U.S. employers added 171,000 jobs in October, and hiring was stronger in August and September than first thought. The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in September, mainly because more people began looking for work.
Friday's report was the last major snapshot of the economy before Tuesday's elections and could play a role in how some people vote. Since July, the economy has created an average of 173,000 jobs a month, but President Barack Obama will face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt.
The Fredericksburg region has seen steady economic growth over the past year as reflected by unemployment data as well as better reports on sales tax collections, vehicle sales, building permits and housing prices.
For example the local economy added 643 jobs between August and September, according to the most recent data from the Virginia Employment Commission. The jobless rate for the region--Fredericksburg and Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties--was 5.2 percent in September.
That was one of the lowest jobless rates in the state other than in Northern Virginia, and it's down from 6 percent a year ago. Still, the rate is a couple of percentage points above the typical number before the recession hit.
Uncertainty regarding the upcoming election and what it will mean for tax policies, federal budgets and other factors may be preventing a more robust recovery, area business leaders say.
Charlie Payne, an attorney with Hirschler Fleischer who handles a lot of land-use cases, has said many of his clients have been reluctant to pull the trigger on job-creating projects because of the uncertainty surrounding the election.
The Fredericksburg region is also heavily dependent on federal spending, particularly military budgets. Possible upcoming sequestration-related cuts have made some area defense contractors reluctant to commit to leasing space, say area commercial real estate brokers.
David Newman, who is handling leasing for the Silver Cos. at the Quantico Corporate Center in North Stafford, said his company will probably wait until after the election to try to sell the third 140,000-square-foot office building in the park. The building is fully leased.
Still, as is the case with most recent local data releases, Friday's jobs report provides hope of better days ahead. The percentage of Americans working or looking for work rose for the second straight month. 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, pay has risen just 1.6 percent. That has trailed inflation, which rose 2 percent. The number of unemployed increased 170,000 to 12.3 million, pushing up the unemployment rate.
--The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405