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U.S. employment gains disappointed again in September even as the unemployment rate plummeted to a new pandemic low, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday, signaling some sluggishness in the labor market's recovery after outsized gains through most of the summer. Employers added just 194,000 jobs in September, far below expectations for an increase of 500,000. August's 235,000 gain was revised up to 366,000 and July's increase of 1 million was revised up to 1.1 million. With those revisions, employment in July and August combined is 169,000 higher than previously reported, the BLS said, perhaps explaining some of the September miss.

Total private payrolls rose 317,000, also below the 450,000 increase forecast by market analysts. That was mostly driven by hiring in service-producing sectors like leisure and hospitality (+75,000), professional and business services (+60,000), and retail trade (+56,100). Hiring in goods-producing industries was up 52,000 through September, with manufacturing payrolls up 26,000 and construction payrolls up 22,000. Government payrolls declined by 123,000 through the month.

UNEMPLOYMENT DOWN

Meanwhile, the unemployment sank to 4.8%, the lowest since the start of the pandemic.

Among the unemployed, the number of permanent job losers fell by 236,000 to 2.3 million, while the number of people on temporary layoff was little changed at 1.1 million, the BLS said. Reentrants, or people who previously worked but were not in the labor force before searching for a new job, declined by 198,000 in September after increasing by a similar amount in August.

The median duration of unemployment ticked down to 13.9 weeks after rising to 14.3 weeks in August. The number of long-term unemployed, or those jobless for six months or more, declined by 496,000, accounting for 34.5% of the total unemployed.

The U-6 rate, which accounts for discouraged workers, fell to 8.5% from 8.8% in August.

The number of people not in the labor force who currently want a job was essentially unchanged at 6 million through the month. These individuals were not counted in the official unemployment rate because they were not actively looking for work sometime in the last four weeks.

The participation rate dipped slightly to 61.6% in September, while the employment-population ratio edged up to 58.7 from 58.5 in August.

Average hourly earnings were up 0.6% in September, above market expectations for a 0.4% gain. From a year earlier, wages were up 4.6%. The length of the average workweek was unchanged at 34.8 hours for the fourth consecutive month.