WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy grew at a slightly faster 2 percent annual rate from July through September, buoyed by more spending by consumers and the federal government.

Even with the increase from a 1.3 percent growth rate in the April-June quarter, the economy remains too weak to rapidly boost job creation.

The report Friday from the Commerce Department is the last broad snapshot of the economy before Americans choose a president in 11 days.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney has attacked President Barack Obama's handling of the economy and has noted that growth has slowed from last year. The 1.74 percent annual growth rate for the first nine months of 2012 remains slightly behind last year's 1.8 percent growth. That, in turn, trailed 2010's growth of 2.4 percent.

Obama has argued that the economy is steadily improving. Analysts cautioned, though, that Friday's report offered few signs that economic growth is gaining momentum.

"We suspect that growth will slow a little in the fourth quarter and expect it to remain close to 2 percent next year," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

The economy grew faster last quarter in part because consumer spending rose at a 2 percent annual rate, up from a 1.5 percent rate in the second quarter. Spending on homebuilding and renovations increased at an annual rate of more than 14 percent.

And federal spending surged, mainly because of the sharpest increase in defense spending in more than three years.

Growth was held back by the first drop in exports in more than three years and flat business investment in equipment and software. It was also slowed by the effects of the drought that struck the Midwest last summer. The drought cut agriculture stockpiles and reduced the economy's annual growth rate by nearly a half-point.

Once crop supplies return to normal, they will help boost economic growth, analysts noted.

The government's report covers gross domestic product. GDP measures the nation's total output of goods and services — from restaurant meals and haircuts to airplanes, appliances and highways.

It was the government's first of three estimates of growth for the July-September quarter. And it sketched a picture that's been familiar all year: The economy is growing at a tepid rate, slowed by high unemployment and corporate anxiety over an unresolved budget crisis and a slowing global economy.

It is unclear what effect, if any, Friday's report might have on the presidential race. Some analysts said they doubted it would sway many undecided voters in battleground states.

"It's moving in the right direction, but it's still an unimpressive number," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "It's so close to the election I don't know how many people are left to influence."

The factors supporting the economy's growth are shifting. Exports and business investment drove much of the growth after the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009. But those sectors are weakening. Consumer spending, meantime, has picked up. And housing is adding to growth after a six-year slump.

The number of homes available for sale has fallen since the recession, helping push up prices. That trend has also supported an increase in home construction, though from very low levels.

Consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic activity.

Businesses have grown more cautious since spring, in part because customer demand has remained modest and exports have declined as the global economy has slowed.

Many companies worry that their overseas sales could dampen further if recession spreads throughout Europe and growth slows further in China, India and other developing countries. Businesses also fear the tax increases and government spending cuts that will kick in next year if Congress doesn't reach a budget deal.

Those trends have made companies reluctant to hire or invest in expensive equipment.

Since the recovery began more than three years ago, the U.S. economy has grown at the slowest rate of any recovery in the post-World War II period. And economists think growth will remain sluggish at least through the first half of 2013.

Some analysts believe the economy will start to pick up in the second half of next year.

Economists hope that by then, the tax and spending confrontations that have brought gridlock to Washington should be resolved. That could encourage businesses to invest and hire.

The Federal Reserve's continued efforts to boost the economy by lowering long-term interest rates may also help by generating more borrowing and spending by consumers and businesses.

But the economy is still being slowed by consumers' efforts to spend less, boost savings and pay off debts, economists say. And banks remain cautious about lending in the aftermath of the financial crisis. That's why recoveries after financial crises are usually weak, many economists say.

"There's just a reality here: You don't recover from these types of events as quickly as you'd like," said Paul Edelstein, an economist at IHS Global Insight.

___

AP Economics Writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.

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  • 10. Optometrists

    <strong>Percent increase:</strong> 33.1 percent <strong>Total new jobs (2010-2020):</strong> 11,300 <strong>Median income:</strong> $94,990 <strong>States with the most jobs per capita:</strong> Hawaii, North Dakota, Montana Optometrists specialize in the care of eyes and vision. Their responsibilities include diagnosing eye injuries and diseases, as well as prescribing glasses and contact lenses. In order to practice, they are required to have a Doctor of Optometry degree, presently awarded by just 20 accredited programs, and must be licensed by the National Boards in Optometry. Those who meet these qualifications are often extremely well-compensated: the top 10% of optometrists earned in excess of $166,400. With vision problems becoming more frequent as people grow older, the number of optometrists is expected to rise by 33.1% between 2010 and 2020. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/08/30/the-best-paying-jobs-of-the-future-2/#ixzz258VQKtNN" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 9. Occupational Therapists

    <strong>Percent increase:</strong> 33.5 percent <strong>Total new jobs (2010-2020):</strong> 36,400 <strong>Median income:</strong> $72,320 <strong>States with the most jobs per capita:</strong> Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire "Occupational therapists treat patients with injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working," according to the BLS. Becoming an occupational therapist requires a master's degree, which generally takes two years to complete. The number of occupational therapists is expected to reach 145,200 by 2020, as an aging baby-boomer generation looks to maintain its independence and stay active. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/08/30/the-best-paying-jobs-of-the-future-2/#ixzz258VQKtNN" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 8. Veterinarians

    <strong>Percent increase:</strong> 35.9 percent <strong>Total new jobs (2010-2020):</strong> 22,000 <strong>Median income:</strong> $82,040 <strong>States with the most jobs per capita:</strong> Montana, Colorado, Iowa "Occupational therapists treat patients with injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working," according to the BLS. Becoming an occupational therapist requires a master's degree, which generally takes two years to complete. The number of occupational therapists is expected to reach 145,200 by 2020, as an aging baby-boomer generation looks to maintain its independence and stay active. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/08/30/the-best-paying-jobs-of-the-future-2/#ixzz258VQKtNN" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 7. Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists

    <strong>Percent increase:</strong> 36.4 percent <strong>Total new jobs (2010-2020):</strong> 36,400 <strong>Median income:</strong> $76,700 <strong>States with the most jobs per capita:</strong> Massachusetts, California, Washington Though the roles of medical scientists vary from job to job, all study biological systems to understand their effects on human health. Medical scientists often work for the federal government, at research universities or in the private sector. By 2020, the number of medical scientists is projected to increase to more than 136,000, as the population of the United States grows and ages and the demand for prescription drugs rises. Educational requirements are quite high, with most positions asking for either a doctorate or a medical degree. The annual pay of the top 10% of medical scientists was $142,800. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/08/30/the-best-paying-jobs-of-the-future-2/#ixzz258VQKtNN" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 6. Audiologists

    <strong>Percent increase:</strong> 36.8 percent <strong>Total new jobs (2010-2020):</strong> 4,800 <strong>Median income:</strong> $66,660 <strong>States with the most jobs per capita:</strong> New Mexico, Colorado, West Virginia Audiologists treat patients who have problems with their hearing, balance or ears. A doctoral degree is necessary, as is a state license, though exact requirements differ by state. Explaining projected job growth, the BLS notes that "hearing loss increases as people age, so an aging population is likely to increase demand for audiologists." There are not very many audiologists, and a projected 36.8 percent increase in jobs would bring the total number of audiologists to 17,800 by the end of the decade. Annual salaries exceeded $102,210 for the top 10 percent of audiologists. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/08/30/the-best-paying-jobs-of-the-future-2/#ixzz258VQKtNN" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 5. Dental Hygienists

    <strong>Percent increase:</strong> 37.7 percent <strong>Total new jobs (2010-2020):</strong> 68,500 <strong>Median income:</strong> $68,250 <strong>States with the most jobs per capita:</strong> Michigan, Utah, Idaho From 2010 to 2020, the number of dental hygienists is projected to rise by 37.7 percent to more than 250,000. Factors driving increased demand for this occupation include ongoing research linking oral health to general health, as well as an aging population keeping more of its teeth. Dental hygienists typically do not need a professional degree or previous work experience, though they often need an associate's degree and a license. Typical job responsibilities include cleaning teeth and taking dental X-rays. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/08/30/the-best-paying-jobs-of-the-future-2/#ixzz258VQKtNN" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 4. Physical Therapists

    <strong>Percent increase:</strong> 39.0 percent <strong>Total new jobs (2010-2020):</strong> 77,400 <strong>Median income:</strong> $76,310 <strong>States with the most jobs per capita:</strong> Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine Physical therapists assist patients by helping to address and correct dysfunctional movement and pain. They are required to have a postgraduate professional degree, typically a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and a license. Those completing these prerequisites join one of the fastest-growing professions in the country -- by 2020, the number of positions is expected to rise by 39 percent. The BLS states that "demand for physical therapy services will come, in large part, from the aging baby boomers, who are staying active later in life than previous generations did." The top 10 percent of physical therapists earned more than $107,920. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/08/30/the-best-paying-jobs-of-the-future-2/#ixzz258VQKtNN" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 3. Market Research Analysts And Marketing Specialists

    <strong>Percent increase:</strong> 41.2 percent <strong>Total new jobs (2010-2020):</strong> 116,600 <strong>Median income:</strong> $60,570 <strong>States with the most jobs per capita:</strong> Delaware, Massachusetts, New York Market research analysts work in most industries, monitoring and forecasting marketing and sales trends, as well as collecting and analyzing data on their companies' products or services. To become a market research analyst, a bachelor's degree is typically required, though many analysts have a master's degree. Citing increases in the use of market research across all industries, the BLS projects the number of positions in the field will rise to almost 400,000 by 2020. Top-earning market research analysts made more than $111,440 annually. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/08/30/the-best-paying-jobs-of-the-future-2/#ixzz258VQKtNN" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 2. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

    <strong>Percent increase:</strong> 43.5 percent <strong>Total new jobs (2010-2020):</strong> 23,400 <strong>Median income:</strong> $64,380 <strong>States with the most jobs per capita:</strong> Rhode Island, Florida, South Dakota Diagnostic medical sonographers work in hospitals and other facilities, conducting ultrasounds on patients and analyzing the resulting images. The BLS projects an increase of 43.5 percent in the number of positions between 2010 and 2020, which would raise the total number of such jobs to 77,100. Explaining the driving factors behind the growth, the BLS states that "as ultrasound technology evolves, it will be used as a substitute for procedures that are costly, invasive or expose patients to radiation." Sonographers typically need an associate's degree, and many employers prefer candidates to have professional certification. The top 10 percent of sonographers made more than $88,490 annually <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/08/30/the-best-paying-jobs-of-the-future-2/#ixzz258VQKtNN" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 1. Biomedical Engineers

    <strong>Percent increase:</strong> 61.7 percent <strong>Total new jobs (2010-2020):</strong> 9,700 <strong>Median income:</strong> $81,540 <strong>States with the most jobs per capita:</strong> Massachusetts, Utah, Minnesota The work of biomedical engineers typically involves designing or maintaining biomedical equipment, such as artificial organs and X-ray machines. These jobs often require a great deal of technical knowledge in fields such as biology, engineering, math and chemistry. Because of this, a bachelor's degree is typically needed. The professional requirements come with impressive compensation. The median income for such jobs was $81,540 and the top 10 percent earned more than $126,990. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of biomedical engineers is projected to rise by 61.7 percent, more than four times the projected growth rate for all jobs, which is 14 percent. To explain its growth projections for the profession, the BLS cites the baby boomer generation's growing demand for biomedical devices and procedures as it "seeks to maintain its healthy and active lifestyle." <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/08/30/the-best-paying-jobs-of-the-future-2/#ixzz258VQKtNN" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>