The U.S. jobless rate fell to 7.8 percent in September, the first time in 44 months it had dipped below the 8-percent level.
In a key government report, one month ahead of the country’s presidential election, the U.S. said Friday the country’s labor market added 114,000 jobs last month. It also revised the estimate for new hiring in July and August sharply upward, saying the economy added 86,000 more jobs than initially calculated.
The August unemployment rate had been pegged at 8.1 percent, and some economists predicted it would edge even higher in September. The U.S. Labor Department said the figure dropped because employers added more part-time workers last month.
The state of the American economy, the world’s largest, is at the center of the political campaign for the November 6 election. President Barack Obama, the Democratic incumbent, and his Republican challenger, wealthy businessman Mitt Romney, sparred repeatedly in their debate this week about who could boost job growth more during the next four years.
Romney called the latest jobs report “not what a real recovery looks like.” White House economic adviser Alan Krueger said the declining jobless rate is “further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal.”
Since World War II, no U.S. president has been re-elected to a second term with a national jobless rate above 7.4 percent.
Romney says that if he is elected his economic program will produce 12 million new jobs. Obama points to the more than five million new jobs that he says have been added to the economy in the last 31 months. A recent government reassessment of hiring showed there has been a modest net gain of jobs during his White House tenure, after millions were lost in the early months of his term.
More than 12 million workers remain unemployed, with millions more working at part-time jobs or employed in ones they consider beneath their skill level. But the government said the number of jobless workers dropped by 465,000 in September.
The United States has struggled to recover from its steep economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, the worst recession in the country since the Great Depression in the 1930s. In the government’s most recent accounting, the U.S. economy advanced a meager 1.3 percent in the April-to-June period.
The country’s central bank has kept its key benchmark borrowing rate at near zero percent for an extended period. But several attempts by the Federal Reserve to boost the economy through purchase of government and real estate-related securities seem to have had a limited effect on advancing the recovery.