Job openings in the U.S. climbed in October to a four-month high, indicating the labor market is on the mend.

The number of positions waiting to be filled rose by 128,000 to 3.68 million from a revised 3.55 million the prior month, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Hiring also increased.

The pickup in openings lays the ground for the job growth needed to sustain consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy. At the same time, the lack of stronger employment prospects and a jobless rate that remains elevated help explain why Federal Reserve policy makers, meeting today and tomorrow, are weighing additional easing to spur growth.

“There’s improvement,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said before the report. Even so, “the progress on payrolls is nothing to be excited about,” and “the Fed is taking aim at the high unemployment rate,” he said.

Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures.

The job market withstood the impact of superstorm Sandy last month, Labor Department figures showed on Dec. 7. Payrolls rose by 146,000 in November following a revised 138,000 in October that was less than initially estimated. The median estimate of economists in a Bloomberg survey called for an 85,000 advance. Private payrolls, which exclude government agencies, grew by 147,000 after a revised gain of 189,000.

Jobless Rate

The jobless rate dropped to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent, reflecting a pickup in the number of people leaving the labor force, the Labor Department also reported last week.

Today’s report showed job openings in the Northeast were up 8,000 in October, while hiring dropped 101,000. Superstorm Sandy swept ashore in the region on Oct. 29.

In the U.S., the number of people hired rose to 4.34 million in October, pushing up the hiring rate to 3.2 percent from 3.1 percent, today’s report showed.