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U.S. Unemployment Rate Hits Nearly 50-Year Low Despite Slowing Job Growth

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A closely watched report released by the Labor Department on Friday showed U.S. employment increased by less than expected in the month of September, although the report also showed the unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped to a nearly 50-year low.

The report said non-farm payroll employment rose by 136,000 jobs in September compared to economist estimates for an increase of about 145,000 jobs.

The Labor Department said employment in healthcare and professional and business services continued to trend up, while the manufacturing sector lost 2,000 jobs amid the strike at General Motors (GM).

Meanwhile, the increases in employment in July and August were upwardly revised to 166,000 jobs and 168,000 jobs, respectively, reflecting the addition of 45,000 more jobs than previously reported.

The average monthly job growth has still slowed from 223,000 jobs per month in 2018 to 161,000 jobs per month so far in 2019.

The Labor Department also said the unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent in September from 3.7 percent in August. Economists had expected to unemployment rate to remain unchanged.

With the unexpected decrease, the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level since hitting a matching rate in December of 1969.

The unexpected drop in the unemployment rate came as a 391,000-person jump in the household survey measure of employment more than offset an 117,000-person increase in the size of the labor force.

Even with the unemployment rate hitting a nearly 50-year low, the report said average hourly employee earnings edged down by a penny to $28.09 in September after rising by 11 cents in August.

Compared to the same month a year ago, average hourly earnings were up by 2.9 percent in September, reflecting a notable slowdown from the 3.2 percent increase in August.

Citing headwinds from weaker global growth, trade uncertainty and the strong U.S. dollar, ING Chief International Economist James Knightley expects job growth to average closer to 120,000 for the rest of the year.

"This suggests pay growth is unlikely to accelerate markedly from here and with inflation picking up, the real wage growth story may not be as positive for spending power," Knightley said.

He added, "All in all, it looks as though the Fed will need to step in with more policy easing to support the economy."

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