WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy added 531,000 in October, a strong number that indicates a growing recovery as coronavirus cases declined across the country.

The unemployment rate dropped slightly to 4.6 percent from 4.8 percent.

The country still has more than 4 million jobs fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic hit the country in early 2020.

Anecdotally, some business owners say they’ve been able to make more progress in hiring up in the last six weeks. Business surveys, such as IHS Markit’s purchasing managers’ index, show that service sector employers — the largest portion of the economy, by far — are increasing workforce numbers at the quickest rate since June, when the country added nearly 1 million workers to the payrolls.

And consumer confidence, the engine of the U.S. economy, reversed a months-long slide in October to mark higher numbers, according to the Conference Board’s monthly survey. Consumers were also the most optimistic about their own prospects to find jobs since 2000, the survey found.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Fed Chair Jerome Powell have said they believe that child-care issues and related challenges are some of the biggest forces holding back the labor market. But these problems might take time to address.

A new report from the Brookings Institution argues that reopening schools won’t be enough to resolve recent gender disparities in the labor market. Women are overrepresented in some of the sectors that have been the most hard hit by the pandemic, and some may decide not to go back into work for other reasons, the authors argue.

“As schools have started up with a universal return to in-person education, we may see a rise in the labor force participation rates of women with young children,” the authors, Stephanie Aaronson and Francisca Alba wrote. “That said, the outbreaks of COVID-19 may discourage some mothers from returning to work, particularly those with unvaccinated children at home. Moreover, the quarantining that has occurred at some schools has generated considerable uncertainty, which itself may be a drag on women’s return to work.”