Employers added 171,000 jobs in October, the Labor Department said Friday in the last employment report before the presidential election.
The unemployment rate ticked up 7.9%.
Before the report was released, U.S. stock index futures were mixed and almost flat.
Other barometers of the job market have been more encouraging recently. The government reported Thursday that first-time jobless claims last week fell 9,000 to 363,000. And a private survey estimated businesses added 158,000 jobs in October.
On other fronts, the economy has also shown improvement with retail sales, consumer confidence and the housing market strengthening. Falling gasoline prices are expected to provide a further boost to consumer spending
But businesses have pulled back on investment and hiring amid looming tax increases and spending cuts that could hobble the U.S. economy if Congress doesn't act. And the European financial crisis continues to curtail U.S. exports.
"The fiscal issue is weighing on (business) confidence," says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics. "That's being reflected in (declining) investment and the lack of a pickup in hiring."
The Commerce Department recently said that economy grew at a 2% annual pace in the third quarter, up from 1.3% in the second quarter, a modest expansion that's unlikely to result in robust job growth.