Modest job gains likely to fuel campaign talk

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WASHINGTON — U.S. employers likely added jobs last month, though probably not enough to push down the unemployment rate.

A tepid report today on hiring in August would provide little momentum to President Barack Obama’s campaign a day after his speech to the Democratic convention.

Analysts forecast that the economy generated 135,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate remained 8.3 percent, according to a survey by FactSet.

That’s below the 163,000 jobs gained in July, but an improvement from meager hiring in the spring.

In his speech Thursday night, Obama acknowledged incomplete progress in repairing the still-struggling economy and asked voters to remain patient.

But economists were encouraged Thursday after several reports suggested hiring could pick up in the coming months.

Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government said. And companies boosted hiring in August, according to a private survey. A third report showed that service sector companies expanded at a faster rate last month.

Today’s unemployment and hiring figures will be among the most politically consequential of the campaign. They arrive just as the presidential race enters its final stretch. Jobs are the core issue, and the report could sway some undecided voters.

“It’s the most important economic data point we have between now and Election Day,” said Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman under President George W. Bush.

Despite its political significance, today’s jobs data is unlikely to signal major improvement in the still-sluggish economy. But it will likely provide both sides with fodder for their campaigns.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney has pointed to 42 straight months in which unemployment has exceeded 8 percent.

But today’s report will almost surely mark a 30th straight month of private-sector job gains, a point Obama is certain to spotlight.

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