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October 06, 2000
Surprising Many, Unemployment Rate Declines to 3.9%
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>Employment Situation Data Released


Washington -- BLS statistics released at 8:30 A.M. today provided an unwelcome surprise for the nation's employers. With many recent signs such as slackening production and rising corporate layoffs in evidence, most experts were predicting that the unemployment figures released today would show a rate of 4.1%. Confounding them, the rate declined to its 30-year low figure again of 3.9%.

Total nonfarm employment rose by 252,000 in September, and the unemployment rate declined to 3.9 percent. After adjusting for the net return of striking workers (75,000) and a further decline in the number of temporary census jobs (27,000), nonfarm employment was up by 204,000. Job gains were very strong in the services industry, but the overall employment change was tempered by widespread job losses in manufacturing.

Unemployment (Household Survey Data)

Both the number of unemployed persons, 5.5 million, and the unemployment rate, 3.9 percent, declined in September. Over the past year, the rate has ranged from 3.9 percent to 4.1 percent. Over the month, the unemployment rates decreased for adult women (3.5 percent) and blacks (7.0 percent). Rates for the other major worker groups--adult men (3.2 percent), teenagers (12.8 percent), whites (3.5 percent), and Hispanics (5.6 percent)--showed little or no change.

Industry Payroll Employment (Establishment Survey Data)

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 252,000 to 131.8 million in September. Contributing to this increase was the net return of 75,000 striking workers to their jobs. At the same time, the number also reflects the conclusion of 27,000 temporary census jobs. After adjusting for both effects, payroll employment increased by 204,000 in September. (The strike adjustment primarily reflects the return of 87,000 communications workers who were off company payrolls in August, which was partly offset by new strikes involving 12,000 workers.) So far this year, employment has increased by an average of 192,000 per month compared to 229,000 per month for all of 1999.

Employment in the services industry rose by 200,000 in September, seasonally adjusted. Month-to-month growth in services employment has varied widely this year, although the average monthly change (119,000) is close to the monthly average for all of 1999. Employment in help supply services increased by 69,000 in September, after showing little net growth in the prior 3 months.

Over the month, job gains continued in health services and in engineering and management services. In September, as in August, there were large employment increases in job training services (within social services) and civic and social organizations (within membership organizations) after seasonal adjustment; these increases resulted from lighter-than-normal seasonal layoffs that followed weak summer hiring.

Construction employment rose by 30,000 in September, seasonally adjusted, following 3 months of very small gains. Seasonal declines in construction usually begin in September. This year those seasonal layoffs were smaller than normal, perhaps reflecting the relatively light hiring over the summer. Thus far this year, construction employment has increased by 17,000 per month on average, compared with 25,000 per month for all of 1999.

Employment in transportation and public utilities rose by 105,000 in September, largely reflecting the return of 87,000 telephone communications workers from a strike that kept them off payrolls during the August reference period. Apart from the strike effect, employment in the communications industry increased by 7,000, and the transportation industry continued to grow.

Finance, insurance, and real estate employment rose by 16,000 in September, following a similar gain in August. In the first 7 months of the year, however, the industry had averaged monthly job losses of 4,000. In September, security brokerages added 6,000 jobs, continuing a strong growth trend. Employment also increased in mortgage brokerages and in real estate.

Weekly Hours (Establishment Survey Data)

The average workweek for production or nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls was up by 0.1 hour in September to 34.4 hours, seasonally adjusted. The manufacturing workweek edged down by 0.1 hour to 41.2 hours, following a drop of 0.4 hour in August. In September, manufacturing overtime declined by 0.1 hour for the second consecutive month to 4.4 hours.

For the full BLS report go to:

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