The US added just 148,000 new jobs in September as employers appear to have cut back on hiring ahead of Washington's budget battle.
The report, delayed by the government shutdown, fell short of forecasts but the unemployment rate dipped to 7.2%. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected a payroll gain of 180,000 jobs for the month – up from 169,000 jobs added in August – and for the unemployment rate to stay at 7.3%.
In previous months drops in the unemployment rate have been driven by people leaving the workforce. September's fall appears to be driven by employment growth, one bright spark in an otherwise lacklustre report. The largest job gains were in construction, wholesale trade, and transportation and warehousing.
Employers have now added an average of 185,000 positions each month over the last year as of September, but gains have slowed in recent months. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) has remained high and was little changed in September at 4.1 million. These individuals accounted for 36.9% of the unemployed. The unemployment rates for teenagers (21.4%), black people (12.9%) and Hispanics (9%) also remained high and unchanged.
The 16-day government shutdown began just days before the job report's originally scheduled 4 October release date. The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, which produces the monthly snapshot, had collected the data but was unable to finish its analysis after the shutdown.
The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for July was cut from 104,000 to 89,000, and the change for August was revised up from 169,000 to 193,000.
Earlier this month ADP, a payroll company, said US businesses had added 166,000 new jobs in September and warned that the job recovery appeared to be "softening". August's ADP jobs growth number was revised down to 159,000 from 176,000.
According to ADP's closely watched survey, the service industry once again led the jobs growth number, contributing 149,000 new jobs over the month.
Trade and transportation added 54,000 posts, professional and business services added 27,000 jobs and construction added 16,000 posts. Some 4,000 jobs were lost in financial activities.
Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, ADP's partner on the report, said: "The job market appears to have softened in recent months. Fiscal austerity has begun to take a toll on job creation."
The long-term impact, if any, of the government shutdown is unlikely to be fully reflected in September's figures although a recent report from Macroeconomic Advisers calculated that fiscal uncertainty since 2009 had slowed economic growth by a third of a percentage point per year, equivalent to a loss of 900,000 jobs.
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