By Nick Timiraos

The state of the economy and the job market rumbles through every U.S. presidential election, in some years more fatefully than others.

The financial crisis in 2008, when the country lost 473,000 jobs in October, helped tilt the balance toward Barack Obama. Improving numbers four years later aided in his re-election.

Friday's jobs report notched another month of strong jobs growth, while the 4.9% unemployment rate was the second-lowest in 40 years for the month before a presidential election.

Theoretically, that should be good news for Hillary Clinton, who as the Democratic nominee has had to embrace the Obama economy, for better or worse.

But the question now is whether next week's vote most resembles 1988 or 2000. In both those years, the unemployment rate was low at 5.3% and 3.9%, respectively, and the economy had been booming for years as a relatively popular president had served two terms.

But while voters in 1988 gave Republicans a third term in the White House by electing President George H.W. Bush to succeed Ronald Reagan, a roaring economy in 2000 wasn't enough to catapult Vice President Al Gore into the White House.

This year, Mrs. Clinton has talked up strong jobs numbers while striving not to overstate the economic gains, for risk of sounding deaf to the voter anxieties exploited by her Republican rival, Donald Trump.

The Trump campaign has accentuated any and all weaknesses. On Friday the campaign pointed to the monthly drop in the overall size of the labor force -- it fell 0.1% from September but was still 1.7% higher than a year earlier -- as one sign of what it called the "total failures" of what it called "the Obama-Clinton economy."Employers this year have added an average of almost 181,000 jobs monthly, slightly ahead of the pace that helped Mr. Obama defeat Mitt Romney. The economy added fewer jobs in the months before the 2000 election, but far more -- around 261,000 a month -- before the 1988 election.

With hiring running at a strong pace and the unemployment rate falling steadily over the past three years, Republicans have turned their focus to other measures of labor slack, especially the labor-force participation rate, currently stuck at its lowest levels since the 1970s.

Those declines partly reflect structural changes in the economy -- namely the aging of the workforce. But they also capture other challenges, such as the fading numbers of lower-skilled manufacturing jobs.

Mr. Trump and his supporters have also pointed to the 94.6 million people who aren't in the labor force, the vast majority of whom are either retired, in school or takingcare of family. Fewer than 8 million are unemployed, down from more than 12 million in 2012 and 10 million in 2008.

Write to Nick Timiraos at nick.timiraos@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 04, 2016 17:22 ET (21:22 GMT)

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