Unemployment Rate Hits 50-Year Low, But Hiring Slows Amid Slowdown Fears

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In this Sept. 17, 2019, photo job seekers line up to speak to recruiters during an Amazon job fair in Dallas. On Friday, Oct. 4, the U.S. government issues the September jobs report. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

(WASHINGTON) — U.S. employers added a modest 136,000 jobs in September, enough to help lower the unemployment rate to a new five-decade low of 3.5%.

The figures show that hiring has slowed this year as the U.S.-China trade war has intensified, global growth has slowed and businesses have reduced their investment spending. Even so, recent job gains have averaged 157,000 over the past three months, enough to absorb new job seekers and potentially lower unemployment over time.

Besides issuing the jobs data for September, the government on Friday also revised up its earlier estimates of the gains for July and August by a combined 45,000. The steadiness of U.S. hiring, despite its slowing pace, may help ease concerns that the economy might be edging closer to a potential recession.

Despite ultra-low unemployment, which fell from 3.7% in August, average hourly wages slipped by a penny, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly jobs report. Hourly pay rose just 2.9% from a year earlier, below the 3.4% year-over-year gain at the start of the year.

All told, the September jobs report is likely to keep the Federal Reserve on track to cut rates later this month for the third time this year to try to help sustain the expansion.

The weakening pace of hiring suggests that many employers are growing cautious in the face of uncertainties from President Donald Trump’s trade wars and a global economic slowdown. Businesses have added an average of just 119,000 jobs a month for the past three months, the smallest three-month gain in seven years.

The weakest sector of the economy — manufacturing, which is likely already in recession — cut 2,000 jobs in September. At the same time, retailers shed 11,400 jobs, and employment in mining and logging was unchanged.

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