US payrolls fall 33,000 on storms, jobless rate drops to 4.2%

Unemployment rate dropped to 4.2 per cent from 4.4 per cent, lowest since February 2001.
Unemployment rate dropped to 4.2 per cent from 4.4 per cent, lowest since February 2001.PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The number of workers on US payrolls declined last month for the first time since 2010, reflecting major disruptions from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Labor Department figures showed yesterday Friday.

Total non-farm employment fell by 33,000 positions on a net basis for the month, after an advance of 169,000 rthe previous month, and way below market expectations of a 90,000 gain.

Unemployment rate, derived from a separate Labor Department survey of households, dropped to 4.2 per cent from 4.4 per cent, lowest since Feb. 2001.

About 1.47 million people were unable to work due to bad weather, most since Jan. 1996.

The hurricanes had a "net effect" of reducing nonfarm payrolls in September, while there was "no discernible effect" on the national unemployment rate the Labor Department said in a special note. Data-collection rates "generally were within normal ranges" for both surveys that produce the figures.

Restaurants and bars - an industry where most workers only get paid if they show up to work - had a 105,000 drop in payrolls, according to a statement from Bureau of Labor Statistics acting commissioner William Wiatrowski.

Other data and recent reports - such as Institute for Supply Management surveys for employment in manufacturing and service industries - indicate the underlying labour market is humming along.

The pickup in wages was encouraging, though some economists had already penciled in a boost - with reasons including storm effects that prevented low-paid Americans from working, and a calendar quirk that tends to produce stronger wage growth when the 15th of the month falls within the survey week.

With the U.S. near full employment, Federal Reserve policy makers have been watching for signs of an acceleration in paychecks that may push inflation closer to their goal. The central bank last month forecast it will raise interest rates once more by year-end, with investors and analysts expecting the move in December.

"There are ample reasons to believe that the underlying labour market picture remains solid," suggesting that a weak reading on payrolls "should be appropriately discounted," Matthew Luzzetti and Brett Ryan, economists at Deutsche Bank Securities, said in a note before the report.