The U.S. labor market showed remarkable resilience in September, adding 336,000 jobs and defying predictions of a slowdown amid rising inflation and supply chain disruptions. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.8%, the lowest level since March 2020.
The September jobs report, released by the Labor Department on Friday, was well above the expectations of economists, who had forecasted a gain of 170,000 jobs. The report also revised the previous two months’ figures upward, adding 51,000 more jobs than initially estimated.
The strong job growth was driven by gains in sectors such as leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, education and health services, and transportation and warehousing. The leisure and hospitality sector, which was hit hard by the pandemic, added 74,000 jobs in September, bringing its total recovery to 76% of the pre-pandemic level.
The average hourly earnings rose by 0.6% in September, following a 0.4% increase in August. The annual wage growth accelerated to 4.6%, the highest since November 2018. The increase in wages reflected the tight labor market conditions, as employers competed for workers amid a record number of job openings.
The labor force participation rate, which measures the share of working-age people who are either employed or looking for work, edged up slightly to 61.6% in September, but remained below the pre-pandemic level of 63.4%. The number of people who reported that they were unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic declined by 1.5 million to 3.8 million.
The September jobs report was a welcome surprise for the U.S. economy, which has been facing headwinds from the Delta variant of the coronavirus, supply chain bottlenecks, higher energy prices, and labor shortages. The report also eased some of the pressure on the Federal Reserve, which has been debating when to start tapering its bond-buying program that supports the economic recovery.
The Fed chair Jerome Powell said last month that he expected a “soft landing” for the economy, where inflation would moderate and growth would remain strong. He also said that the central bank could announce its plan to reduce its monthly asset purchases as soon as November, if the labor market continued to improve.
The September jobs report showed that the U.S. economy still had room to grow, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and its aftermath. The report also boosted the confidence of consumers and businesses, who have been worried about the economic outlook in recent months.