The nation's jobless rate remained at 9.6 percent last month as the economy added 150,000 jobs in its strongest showing in five months, the federal government reported today.

The U.S. Labor Department said the new jobs were created in mining and a number of service-providing industries.

The number of added jobs is more than the 100,000 needed to keep up with population growth but fewer than the 200,000 jobs experts say is needed to start returning the nation's 14.8 million unemployed people to work.

It also was the best showing in hiring since May, when the total nonfarm payroll employment grew by 431,000. But most of those jobs were temporary census positions, which have since ended.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that, since December 2009, nonfarm payroll employment has risen by 874,000 overall.

This morning's jobless report is the first since Tuesday's voter backlash against the Obama administration and reflects conditions in October when candidates on both sides were making their final pitches to voters.

Union and nonunion voters in 100 swing districts agreed that neither party is seen as having a clear plan for strengthening the economy, according to an Election Day poll commissioned by the AFL-CIO.

The majority, regardless of party, favor infrastructure spending, new tax credits for businesses that create jobs, and an extension of unemployment benefits. The poll did not ask respondents about how these measures should be financed.

In signs of an improved outlook, employers have picked up their recruiting efforts at college campuses, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, based in Bethlehem.

"The October hiring index indicates improvement in the job market for new college graduates," says Marilyn Mackes, NICE executive director.

Also, Monster.com reports that online job postings are up nationally, year over year, with postings for jobs in the Philadelphia region outpacing those in the rest of the nation. Monster.com saw increased postings in transportation, production occupations, health care, office and administrative support, and legal.

Although some trends are positive, the job situation is still dire for many.

Among the newly laid-off in October were 98 employees of Main Line Health. The layoffs included 30 managers and two senior executives. More than half came from Lankenau and Bryn Mawr Hospitals.

Government officials and employees are trying to convince Express Scripts Inc. not to close down its two distribution facilities in Bensalem. The St. Louis company has already vowed to close one of the two buildings. If both close, about 900 pharmacists, technicians, customer service representatives, and warehouse workers will lose their jobs, possibly by the end of the year.

In Philadelphia, 300 people showed up over three days to apply for 40 jobs at Kokopelli Restaurant and Tequila Bar, which is scheduled to open later this month. Only half of the bartender, cook, dishwasher, server and management slots were full-time jobs and only six included benefits.

"It's unbelievable how many people came in," said Adam Solomon, managing partner. "People are just so hungry for a job right now."

Solomon estimated that 70 percent of the applicants were unemployed, and he was shocked to see how many of them were "stepping down," or looking for jobs beneath their level of experience or education.

Solomon said he'd love to give them all work, but he has learned that hiring someone who is overqualified is a good bet only when there's room in the organization for that person to advance.

"It doesn't do them or you justice to hire them unless you have a goal for them to achieve," he said.

Labor economists in the meantime keep waiting for a decline in productivity - a sign that the workers who kept their jobs have finally reached their limit as they struggle to pick up the duties of their laid-off colleagues.

A sustained decline in productivity coupled with an increased demand for goods and services will force employers to hire.

But productivity increased by 1.9 percent in the third quarter, the Labor Department reported Thursday.