The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent in September — the lowest level since December 1969.
Employers added just 134,000 jobs, the fewest in a year, the Labor Department said Friday. But that figure was likely lowered by Hurricane Florence, and still represented a solid gain.
September extended the longest streak of hiring on record, with millions of Americans having gone back to work since the Great Recession. Healthy consumer and business spending has been fueling brisk economic growth and emboldening employers to continue hiring. The September gain extended an 8½-year streak of monthly job growth.
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Florence struck North and South Carolina in the middle of September and closed thousands of businesses. A category that includes restaurants, hotels and casinos lost jobs for the first time since last September, when Hurricane Harvey exerted a similar effect.
Aside from the impact of the storm, the underlying trend in hiring remains strong. Job gains in August and July were revised sharply higher, to show 87,000 more jobs were added. Employers have added a robust 190,000 jobs over the past three months.
Last month, average hourly pay increased 2.8 percent from a year earlier, one tick below the year-over-year gain in August.
That figure could rise in the coming months. With the unemployment rate so low, companies are facing intense pressure to boost pay to find the workers they need. Amazon responded on Tuesday by raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
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Consumers, business executives, and most economists remain optimistic. Measures of consumer confidence are at or near their highest levels in 18 years. Retailers have begun scrambling to hire enough workers for what’s expected to be a robust holiday shopping season. A survey of service-sector firms, including banks, hotels and health care providers, found that they are expanding at their fastest pace in a decade.
Americans have continued spending steadily and appear to be in generally stable financial shape. Households are saving nearly 7 percent of their incomes — more than twice the savings rate before the recession. That trend suggests that a brighter economic outlook hasn’t caused consumers to recklessly build up unsustainable debt.
During the April-June quarter, the U.S. economy expanded at a 4.2 percent annual rate, the best in four years. Economists have forecast that growth reached a 3 percent to 3.5 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter.
The economy does show only a few weak spots. Sales of existing homes have fallen over the past year. Increasingly expensive houses, higher mortgage rates and a shortage of properties for sale are slowing purchases. Auto sales have also slumped.
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President Donald Trump’s trade fights could also weigh on the economy, though the effect on hiring won’t likely be felt until next year, economists say.
According to ABC News, “Manufacturers, which are more dependent on foreign markets than other industries, added 18,000 jobs last month, a sign that the trade fight so far is having little effect on hiring.”
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The Associated Press contributed to this article.