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September's 7.8 Jobless Rate A Boost For Obama

For the first time since President Obama took office, the unemployment rate is back at 7.8 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday. It's been above 8 percent for nearly four years. The number of new jobs added was in line with expectations — 114,000.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning. For the first time since President Obama took office, the unemployment rate is back at 7.8 percent, after it's been above, and sometimes well above, eight percent for nearly four years. That comes from the government's September jobs report, which came out this morning.

When it comes to the number of new jobs added last month, the number was largely in line with what economists had expected - 114,000. To talk more about what all this means, we're joined by Scott Horsley at the White House, and business correspondent Yuki Noguchi. And Yuki, let's start with you. Tell us what's going on here.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Well, the most notable piece is that unemployment rate, Renee. Economists expected it to rise from where it is now, where it was, which was 8.1 percent, and instead it fell three-tenths of a percent, which almost no one predicted. The thing that's interesting about that is that the labor force - the number of people looking for work or working - increased considerably, and so that jobless rate fell because jobs were actually added, which is the way you want to lower the rate rather than having people sort of give up looking for work.

What was also good about the numbers is that the last two months were revised upward by 86,000 more jobs in July and August, meaning those two months were better than previously reported. Now, as you mentioned, the month President Obama took office, the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent and then was rapidly rising. It reached 10 percent, and now it's back to that same number when he took office.

MONTAGNE: And Scott, on the surface, the numbers would seem to work in President Obama's favor, but at this point in the race, will this jobs report make much of a difference?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, Renee, this is undoubtedly a good report for the president, who could use a boost after his lackluster debate performance the other night. You know, the Republican critique has been 43 months of unemployment above eight percent. Now that string is finally broken. And as Yuki says, unlike last month, when we saw unemployment drop for the wrong reason, because people gave up looking for work, this report shows unemployment falling for the right reason - more jobs.

But that said, it is pretty late in the game. A lot of voters' feelings about the economy are already pretty well fixed. So just as a bad jobs report last month didn't really affect the trajectory of the race, the effect of this good jobs report could be somewhat muted.

MONTAGNE: And of course the two candidates, the president and Governor Romney, are on the campaign trail today. What do we like to hear from them about this report?

HORSLEY: Well, President Obama will probably say, as he does most months, that we're adding jobs, but he knows it's not fast enough for those who are still out of work. He may crow a little bit about that sub-eight percent unemployment number. But there are talking points in this report for Mitt Romney as well. There were more people working part time last month because they couldn't find full-time work. Manufacturing jobs were down just a bit. Manufacturing had been an early bright spot as we came out of the recession, but jobs in that sector have been basically flat now since spring.

And that's important in a big industrial state like Ohio, where the president will be campaigning later today. So it's not as if this report's going to silence Republican criticism, though it's generally favorable for Mr. Obama.

MONTAGNE: And Yuki, you've taken a closer look at the numbers. What else can you tell us about this report?

NOGUCHI: Well, 114,000 new jobs is not actually a radical departure from what we were expecting, and in fact if you look at the payroll numbers, it's trending down for the last few months. Still, I think whatever your political viewpoint is, this report is a pretty upbeat one economically.

There was a dip in the number of long-term unemployed, which has been, you know, a thorn in the side of many workers. Jobs were added in health care and transportation and financial services, even though, as Scott mentioned, manufacturing did dip a little bit.

Nearly 900,000 more people worked last month. The report also says that people worked more hours and earned more.

MONTAGNE: NPR's business correspondent Yuki Noguchi and our White House correspondent Scott Horsley, thanks to both of you.

NOGUCHI: Thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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