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Originally published Saturday, October 7, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Mixed report on health of labor force

The unemployment rate last month dipped to 4. 6 percent even though the number of new jobs was disappointing, a sign the economy is slowing...

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The unemployment rate last month dipped to 4.6 percent even though the number of new jobs was disappointing, a sign the economy is slowing but in no danger of stalling as Election Day nears.

Employers added 51,000 jobs to the nation's payrolls, the fewest new hires in 11 months — a tally well short of the 120,000 positions private analysts predicted.

Job gains for both July and August turned out to be stronger than previously estimated, however, and that blunted some of the sting. As it turned out, there were some 62,000 more jobs created in the summer than previously reported.

"Companies have pulled back on the job levers, but they haven't shut down the hiring machine. The level of job creation is decent," said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research.

The national unemployment rate — released Friday by the Labor Department — dropped a notch, from 4.7 percent in August to 4.6 percent, matching the figure for June. The lower overall rate, analysts said, also helped to offset some of the disappointment over the sluggish September payroll growth.

Even though the overall jobless rate dipped last month, it went up for some groups. The unemployment rate for blacks rose to 9.2 percent last month from 8.8 percent in August. For Hispanics, the jobless rate ticked up to 5.4 percent from 5.3 percent.

On the payroll front, job cuts at factories, retailers and government tempered job gains in construction, education and health services, and elsewhere.

For the July-to-September quarter, though, the economy added an average of 121,000 new jobs each month. That was stronger than the previous quarter but weaker than the first three months of the year when robust economic activity led companies to crank up hiring.

Workers' average hourly earnings rose to $16.84 last month, a 0.2 percent increase from August. Economists keep close tabs on wage growth for clues about inflation.

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