Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

U.S. jobless rate falls as election time nears

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.8 per cent last month, dropping below eight per cent for the first time in nearly four years and giving President Barack Obama a potential boost with the election a month away.

The rate declined from 8.1 per cent because the number of people who said they were employed soared by 873,000 -- an encouraging sign for an economy that's been struggling to create enough jobs.

The number of unemployed Americans is now 12.1 million, the fewest since January 2009.

The Labor Department said employers added 114,000 jobs in September. It also said the economy created 86,000 more jobs in July and August than the department had initially estimated.

Still, many of the jobs the economy added last month were part time. The number of people with part-time jobs who wanted full-time work rose 7.5 per cent to 8.6 million, the most since February 2009.

Factoring in the discouraged adults who have stopped looking for work and those working part time for lack of full- time opportunities, the underemployment rate is at 14.7 per cent.

Wages rose in September. And more people started looking for work.

The revisions show employers added 146,000 jobs per month from July through September, up from 67,000 in the previous three months.

The 7.8 per cent unemployment rate for September matches the rate in January 2009, when Obama took office. In the months after Obama's inauguration, the rate rose sharply and had topped eight per cent for 43 straight months.

The decline in the unemployment rate comes at a critical moment for Obama, who is coming off a weak debate performance this week against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

The September employment report may be the last that might sway undecided voters. The October jobs report will be released only four days before election day on Nov. 6.

Speaking Friday in Fairfax, Va., Obama said the lower unemployment rate shows the "country has come too far to turn back now."

Romney released a statement that focused on the job figures, which declined in September from August. He also noted manufacturing has lost 600,000 jobs since Obama took office.

"This is not what a real recovery looks like," Romney said in a statement.

But Sal Guatieri, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, said the report signals improvement.

"An overall better-than-expected jobs report, consistent with most recent data that suggest the economy is gaining some momentum," Guatieri said in a note to clients. "The sizable drop in the unemployment rate could lift the president's re-election chances following a post-debate dip."

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was asked on CNBC about suspicions the Obama administration might have skewed the jobs numbers to aid Obama's re-election prospects.

"I'm insulted when I hear that because we have a very professional civil service," Solis said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2012 B8

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