Unemployment hit a fresh 50-year low in September even though nonfarm payrolls rose by just 136,000 as the economy nears full employment, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The jobless rate dropped 0.2 percentage points to 3.5%, matching a level it last saw in December 1969. A more encompassing measure that includes discouraged workers and the underemployed also fell, declining 0.3 percent points to 6.9%, matching its lowest in nearly 19 years and just off the all-time low of 6.8%.
Stocks opened higher following the jobs report, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up nearly 150 points.
Also, the jobless rate for Hispanics also hit a new record low, while the level for African Americans maintained its lowest ever.
At the same time, the economy saw another sluggish month of growth. The nonfarm payrolls count missed the 145,000 estimate from economists surveyed by Dow Jones; the expectation on the jobless rate was to hold steady at 3.7%.
Wages also were a disappointment, with average hourly earnings little changed over the month and up just 2.9% for the year, the lowest increase since July 2018.
The report comes amid uncertain times for the economy, with fears escalating that weakness abroad will bleed into the U.S. and possibly cause a recession. Readings earlier in the week showed continued contraction in manufacturing and a sharp decline in the much larger services industry.
“Today’s data don’t change the fundamental economic picture,” said Eric Winograd, senior U.S. economist at AllianceBernstein. “The labor market is still strong, adding more than enough jobs each month to absorb new entrants to the labor force. But even with a strong labor market, wage growth remains muted, limiting the risk that labor market tightness will push inflation meaningfully higher. The question that matters most for the economy is how long the labor market can stay strong given the ongoing slowdown in growth.”
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