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September Employment Statistics: In Stable Stages, Job Market Recovers

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It was a busy September for those who track unemployment claims data. Even as some companies sharply scaled back on their job cuts this month, the U.S. economy continues to face significant uncertainty in the immediate future as well as the past, with the slow recovery and trade war between the U.S. and China still wreaking havoc on corporate spending and employee hiring.

Last week, the Labor Department announced that initial jobless claims for the week ended Oct. 6 fell 23,000, to 256,000. That figure, which is considered to be low by historical standards, is roughly 9 percent lower than a year ago. Over the last four weeks, the rate has fallen 2.8 percent, which represents the sixth-longest streak of declines on record for the first four weeks of the month.

Further, weekly jobless claims are at their lowest level since 2000. While initial jobless claims have been sliding steadily over the last decade, since the recession ended in the early part of 2009, the only decline of greater length was in the second week of September last year, when initial claims fell 12,000 to 355,000. At the time, the drop was seen as a good sign that the economy had reaccelerated at last, a trend that accelerated in the first half of the year and which now looks to be more permanent.

The number of jobs that were added to the economy every month last year started rising late in the summer, starting in the last few months of 2018. For the entire year, the net gain averaged about 180,000 new jobs per month, a small gain compared to the previous year, when job gains averaged 292,000 a month. It was the first time since 2009 that the economy saw stronger growth in the early part of the year than the latter half.

Much of the strong growth came at the end of the year, as companies accelerated hiring during the holiday shopping season, closing out 2018 with the highest employment gains in a decade. But as economists continue to track the broader economic data, job market indicators seem to indicate that the improving economic conditions are not set to slow down anytime soon.

The core measure of unemployment, which excludes people who have been too discouraged to look for work or are employed part-time when they would rather be looking for full-time jobs, remains exceptionally low: It hit 4.1 percent in September, its lowest level since 1970. That is the same rate that was hit during the early days of the 1980s recession, which saw one of the most severe downturns in U.S. history.

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