The U.S. economy shed 33,000 jobs in September, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while unemployment fell to 4.2 percent.
The September payrolls drop broke a nearly 7-year streak of continuous job gains. But economists caution that the drop is likely representing the short-term consequences of bad weather, not a long-term shift in the job market.
Before this report, the economy had added an average of about 175,000 jobs per month; the unemployment rate has been at 4.3 or 4.4 percent since April.
Job growth in September was expected to be lower than usual because of the effects of several devastating hurricanes. Economists did not generally predict an actual decline, but a not-so-stellar report was widely anticipated.
“Hurricane Irma, in particular, occurred during the period when the Labor Department surveys job growth,” reports NPR’s Jim Zarroli. “So it’s likely to have an especially big impact.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics agrees that hurricanes Harvey and Irma are the “likely” cause of a “sharp employment decline” in restaurant jobs, as well as low growth in other job fields.
People who have jobs but weren’t paid during the survey period don’t count as “employed” in the BLS statistics. That would include, for instance, a restaurant worker who is paid hourly and could not work for an extended period because of a storm.
The acting commissioner provided more context in a statement issued with the report.
“In September, 1.5 million workers had a job but were not at work for the entire reference week due to bad weather, the highest level for this series over the past 20 years,” William Wiatrowski wrote. “This series is highly sensitive to the timing of weather events.”
Not all the data were similarly affected. For instance, the storms had “no discernible effect” on the unemployment rate, the bureau says.
Stuart Hoffman, a senior economic advisor at PNC Financial Services, told Jim the effects of the storms are likely to be temporary, and the job market should recover by the end of the year.
The September jobs report also adjusted revised job growth in July and August downward; with those revisions, 38,000 fewer jobs were added this summer than had been previously reported.
Job growth has now averaged 91,000 jobs monthly for the past 3 months, the BLS says.