October surprise? Jobless rate down to 7.8%
SEPTEMBER BY THE NUMBERS:
WASHINGTON -- Employers added 114,000 jobs in September, cutting the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent, the government said Friday. The jobless rate marked a nearly four-year low, dropping below what it was when President Obama took office.
Coming weeks ahead of the Nov. 6 elections, the jobs numbers from the Labor Department were closely watched by leaders of both political parties. It was the first time since February 2009 that the jobless rate was below 8 percent, which was a tad lower than the 7.9 percent logged when Obama took office in January 2009.
Democrats, who've been subdued in recent months amid sluggish jobs reports, pounced on the positive news.
"Today's report marks the 31st consecutive month of private-sector job growth. While we continue to add jobs, it is imperative that Republicans and Democrats work together to ensure that our fiscal house is in order and our economic recovery remains on track," Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, said in a statement.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other Republicans had a decidedly different take-away.
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," Romney said in a statement. "We created fewer jobs in September than in August, and fewer jobs in August than in July. If not for all the people who have simply dropped out of the labor force, the real unemployment rate would be closer to 11 percent."
The headline employment number of 114,000 new jobs is in line with past performance over the past half-year, but the three-tenths of a percentage point drop in the jobless rate raised eyebrows.
Jack Welch, the iconic business guru and former head of General Electric, all but accused the Obama administration of cooking the books on economic statistics to boost the president's prospects for re-election right after he fared poorly in a debate against Romney.
"Unbelievable jobs numbers," Welch said on Twitter. "These Chicago guys will do anything -- can't debate, so change numbers."
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, appearing on CNBC, said she was insulted and dismissed the allegation as "ludicrous."
Keith Hall, who until recently was the commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said the bureau's household survey was collected by people in all U.S. states and that manipulating the data would be extremely tough.
"People shouldn't think at all there is any bias in the numbers," Hall told McClatchy. "This data is collected and examined by each state. Hundreds of people at BLS help collect this data and compile it. If you wanted to try to mess with these numbers, you are talking a very difficult thing. It almost certainly would be next to impossible."
Statisticians revised the earlier estimates of jobs created in July and August upward by a combined 86,000. It suggests that there's a little more tailwind in the economy than previously thought, and it corresponds with better indicators of consumer confidence and manufacturing activity.
"This was a solid employment report, given the broader sense of fragility gripping the economy. The unemployment rate fell while hours worked and earnings rose," Neil Dutta, the head of economics for Renaissance Macro Research, wrote in an investment note. "Typically, we put more weight on establishment employment than household employment. However, the strength in the household survey offset the tepid private-sector employment growth in the establishment survey."
The health-care sector drove employment during the month, adding nearly 44,000 jobs.
Another sign that the economy remains below par: The number of long-term unemployed -- those jobless for 27 weeks or more -- remained stuck in September at 4.8 million. These long-term jobless Americans accounted for 40.1 percent of all the unemployed.