By Howard Schneider and Michael O'Boyle
ORLANDO, Fla./MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - U.S. job gains in October showed continued progress towards the Federal Reserve's goals, two Fed policymakers said on Friday, with both signaling they would support a rate increase at the U.S. central bank's next meeting, in December.
"The momentum in employment is important. It is a good indicator for the overall momentum of the economy," said Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, who does not vote on the Fed's policy setting committee this year. "For me there is a relatively high bar, at least in pure economic terms, to not moving in December.”
In Mexico City, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said he would have been comfortable raising rates at the Fed's meeting earlier this week, as well as in September. "I think the case for removing some accommodation is strengthening," said Kaplan, who also does not vote on policy this year.
The Fed last raised interest rates last December. Though it began this year with the intention of increasing rates several times through the year, it ended up leaving them unchanged as the economy weathered shocks including a China slowdown, financial market turmoil and fears that Britain's decision to exit the European Union could have negative global consequences.
Economic growth this year has been much slower than expected, although it picked up a bit in the third quarter and both Lockhart and Kaplan projected 2-percent growth, near what economists now think is the economy's potential.
Like Lockhart, Kaplan emphasized that rate hikes would be gradual and shallow, given the headwinds like an aging population that are holding back growth in the economy.
The U.S. government reported a gain of 161,000 jobs in October, well above what the Fed says is needed simply for the labor market to tread water. The unemployment rate fell from 5 percent to 4.9 percent.
Asked about the impact of the U.S. presidential election in four days' time, Kaplan declined to comment. He said however that he would continue speaking out in support of trade and several times mentioned the importance of immigration to continued U.S. economic growth. Republican candidate Donald Trump has said he would build a border wall between the United States and Mexico and would ban certain groups from immigrating.
(Writing by Ann Saphir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)