A flurry of reports show the U.S. economy improving slightly, just ahead of the presidential election.

Thursday, a company that processes millions of paychecks across the country (ADP) reported that private sector companies are picking up the pace of hiring.

Another report from the U.S. Labor Department said the number of Americans signing up for unemployment aid fell last week by 9,000 to a nationwide total of 363,000.

An expert on labor economics, John Martin of IQNavigator, says those gains are consistent with a job market that is "healing."

The improving job market probably played a role in still another report that showed consumer confidence improving in October to the highest level in nearly five years.  

Friday, government experts will publish the closely-watched U.S. unemployment rate.  Economists surveyed by the Bloomberg financial news service predict it will get slightly worse, rising one tenth of a percentage point to 7.9 percent.  They also expect the economy will have a net gain of 125,000 jobs.  

Martin says job gains at that level are just "treading water" because the economy has to add between 150,000 and 200,000 jobs per month just to keep up with new entrants to the work force. 

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.