WASHINGTON - Employers added a disappointing 148,000 jobs in September, extending a summer slowdown in payroll growth.
The unemployment rate fell to 7.2% from 7.3%, the Labor Department said Tuesday.
The closely-watched survey was scheduled to be released Oct. 4, but was delayed by the federal government shutdown.
Economists' consensus forecast had estimated that 180,000 jobs were added last month.
Businesses added just 126,000 jobs, while federal, state and local governments added 22,000.
Job gains for July and August were revised up by a total 9,000. July's were revised down to 89,000 from 104,000. August's were revised up to 193,000 from 169,000.
Other barometers of the labor market in September were mixed. Employers added a solid 20,000 temporary workers. The addition of such contingent workers often foreshadows a pick-up in permanent hiring, but since the recession many businesses have embraced the hiring of temporary workers as a substitute for committing to permanent staffers.
The average workweek, meanwhile. was unchanged at 34.5 hours. Employers often increase the hours of existing workers before adding new ones. Average hourly earnings rose 3 cents to $24.09.
Another bright spot: The number of Americans out of work at least six months fell by 144,000 to 4.1 million, but they still represent 37% of all those unemployed.
A broader reading of distress in the employment market called the underemployment rate fell to 13.6% from 13.7%. The measure includes part-time workers who prefer full-time jobs and those who've stopped looking for work, as well as the unemployed.
Several reports had fueled hopes for a strengthening job market in September. Initial unemployment claims fell to post-recession lows and a measure of manufacturing activity rose solidly. The anticipation was tempered by payroll processor ADP's survey that showed businesses added 166,000 jobs last month.
Monthly job gains slowed over the summer after averaging about 200,000 earlier this year, according to the Labor Department. The dip helped prompt the Federal Reserve to delay tapering its $85 billion a month in bond-buying in September.
In the fourth quarter, meanwhile, economic and job growth had been expected to ratchet higher as the effects of federal spending cuts fade and the housing recovery and low household debt levels spur more consumer and business spending. But the recent shutdown and the budget deadlock in Congress has led many economists to push back those expectations into next year.