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US: Modest Job Growth, Falling Unemployment Rate

The United States labor market added a modest 148,000 new jobs in September, but the country's unemployment rate dropped to its lowest point in nearly five years.

The government said Tuesday the jobless rate last month edged down to 7.2 percent, one tenth of a point better than the August figure. It was the best reading for the world's largest economy since late 2008, just before the country endured its worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The job growth number pointed to a slowing economy in the weeks just before a 16-day partial shutdown of the U.S. government that may have taken as much as $24 billion out of the economy. By comparison, the government revised its August job growth figure from 169,000 up to 193,000.

The chief economist at the one of the biggest U.S. banks, Mark Vitner at Wells Fargo, told VOA that the September job growth was disappointing and said the falling jobless rate was deceptively favorable, mostly the result of workers dropping out of the labor market. In the U.S., workers who stop looking for jobs are not counted as unemployed.

"It certainly showed that the economy had less momentum going into the government shutdown than people had previously thought."

The U.S. said employment increased last month in construction, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing. The report does not include the 800,000 government employees who were furloughed at the start of October, until lawmakers reopened government agencies last week.

White House economic adviser Jason Furman said various indicators show a weakening U.S. economy earlier this month. He called the shutdown a "self-inflicted wound" that will possibly cut 120,000 jobs that might have otherwise been added in October.

The U.S. jobless rate has been moving lower as the American economy slowly recovers from its recession. But it still is high by U.S. historical standards, where an unemployment rate of between 5 and 6 percent is more normal.

The U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, is looking at several indicators, including the jobless rate, as it weighs next week whether to trim stimulus measures it has used to try to boost job growth and economic activity. The Fed has been pumping $85 billion a month into the economy with security purchases and had suggested it might begin to scale back its direct support of the economy.

Vitner predicted that the weak job growth and the effects of the government shutdown would delay any Fed cutback until next year.

"I think that they'll extend (the stimulus) a few more months, at full throttle, at $85 billion a month, and then start winding it down in the spring. That's probably a safe play right now. Unfortunately, with the economy growing at 2 percent, 2 percent a year, you just don't have a lot of margin of error. You don't want to make a mistake and throw the economy back to recession, or back to the brink of recession."

Numerous economists say the government shutdown will hurt growth prospects for the last three months of the year.

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