Job growth picked up to 103,000 last month, defying fears of a gathering slowdown in the economy, while the unemployment rate held steady at 9.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday morning.
The unexpectedly solid increase in jobs included 45,000 Verizon workers returning from strike. But the department also said that 99,000 more jobs were created in July and August than previously reported, suggesting that the economy has been performing better than thought on Wall Street and Main Street.
"I'm excited that we got a decent employment number — not great — but OK, given the challenges we face," said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities. "Certainly Verizon strikers impacted the data, but the underlying story is still growth — even if at a modest pace."
Gains were particularly strong in health care, construction and professional and business services, where jobs grew by 44,000, 26,000 and 48,000, respectively.
Governments continued to shed jobs, however, with local governments laying off 35,000 people and the troubled U.S. Postal Services eliminating 5,000 jobs.
The Labor Department said job growth has slowed to an average of 72,000 a month since April — far below the 161,000 average in the previous six months. But it has not disappeared altogether, despite widespread worries that the economy may be falling into a recession.
"The U.S. labor market has performed better than feared in recent months," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, a London investment firm. He said it is "encouraging" that growth is being led by the private sector rather than the government, where an overload of debt is forcing steep budget cuts.
"It suggests that increasing numbers of companies are expanding in hope of stronger demand in coming months," he said. It also suggests that the economy is picking up speed this fall from the sluggish 1.3 percent growth rate set in the summer quarter, he said.
The average workweek and average wages also increased modestly during the month, providing a solid rise in income for consumers.
However, the steady growth in the job market is not strong enough to draw down the unemployment rate, which has been stuck around 9.1 percent for much of the year.
"The September performance is more of a dead cat bounce than real progress," said Peter Morici, business professor at the University of Maryland. "Many adults remain on the sidelines and are too discouraged to look for work."
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