U.S. employers added 148,000 jobs in September, with the unemployment rate falling to 7.2 percent, the Labor Department reported Tuesday. Though the jobless rate dropped, the payrolls figure comes in well below consensus expectations, which were at 185,000, according to Bloomberg. It also represents a slowdown from August, when the economy added a revised 193,000 jobs.
The September report comes nearly three weeks late, thanks to a partial government shutdown that put the brakes on most government economic reports.
The industry adding the most jobs was business and professional services, a broad category that includes accountants and temp workers, with 32,000 new jobs. Transportation and warehousing also posted 23,400 jobs, and government added 22,000 new workers. Construction also posted a strong month, with 20,000 new jobs, which may be evidence of continued strength in housing.
The latest jobs figures is the latest in a long line of reports that show steady but slow growth in the nation's job market. Average monthly job growth for 2013 is currently at around 178,000, little changed from 2012's monthly average of around 183,000.
Understanding exactly who or what is to blame for that remarkably flat rate of growth is a complicated question, experts say. High debt burdens, trying to cut government spending too quickly, and global economic forces are just a few of the key factors slowing job growth down, says Patrick O'Keefe, director of economic research at accounting firm CohnReznick. He believes policymakers should start asking themselves how they can fix this broader problem.
"We're all fixated on the month-to-month gyrations. and not stepping back and formulating a longer-term strategy," O'Keefe adds.
Whatever has slowed job growth in the past, job reports for coming months could be particularly lackluster, thanks to uncertainty from the latest shutdown and debt ceiling standoff. And because Congress failed to create a long-term budget solution, economic growth as a whole could be more sluggish, says one expert.
"Government workers are back on the job but future government spending is still uncertain because Congress only extended the deadline for a budget agreement for three months," Wells Fargo Advisors Chief Macro Strategist Gary Thayer wrote in a Monday investment strategy note. "This lingering uncertainty is likely to hamper economic growth during the next few months."
The recent fiscal squabbles in Washington have weighed heavily on Americans' minds, but the shutdown did not affect September's jobs numbers, as it began on Oct. 1. October's report is where the effects will start showing up, O'Keefe says. The shutdown delayed the Labor Department's monthly jobs report surveys and will also delay the October report by a week. Its effects on the numbers will be difficult to parse out, however, he notes.
"We will be a couple of months before we can look at the data and begin to formulate reasonable assessments of what was the underlying trend prior to the shutdown, what happened during the shutdown, and how the event called the shutdown shifted – if at all – the underlying trend that was in place prior to the contretemps," O'Keefe says.