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Storm-Battered U.S. Economy Lost 33,000 Jobs In September


What happened to the job market? After many, many months of growth, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded some backsliding in September. The economy lost 33,000 jobs. NPR's Jim Zarroli joins us now. Jim, what went wrong?

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Well, it was almost certainly due to one thing, which is the hurricanes, all the bad weather we saw in Texas and the Southeast that - especially Hurricane Irma because that took place during the period in September when the Labor Department surveys businesses about, you know, job creation. Meanwhile, people were still recovering from Harvey and all the flooding that caused in, you know, Texas and Louisiana. Maria was not really a factor because this survey by the Labor Department doesn't include Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

But just in general, you know, people weren't able to get to work. You saw a big drop in hotel and restaurant jobs, lots of them in Florida. So this isn't a surprise at all. I think most economists were expecting, you know, job creation to go down, perhaps not this much. But they thought this was going to happen. It is remarkable in the sense that this is the first time in 83 months, really since 2010, that the economy lost jobs during the month.

INSKEEP: Wow, significant step back. But with these hurricanes, you do have more activity when places start to rebuild. Will there be a bounce back?

ZARROLI: Yes, I think you'll see a rebound pretty quickly in the months to come. You know, there's rebuilding. As you point out, construction jobs get created. And this is still, you know, a pretty healthy economy. Before these numbers came out, we saw on average 176,000 jobs created every month this year. And that's not, you know, spectacular growth, but it is, you know, fairly steady, strong growth. You're hearing a lot of information, a lot of anecdotal information from businesses about how much trouble they're finding workers. So the job market is basically tight, and it's going to remain so for a while.

INSKEEP: This is what we've heard in the last few months when we've interviewed business owners, that the problem is they can't find enough qualified people. Is that improving people's paychecks, the tight labor market?

ZARROLI: Well, this - we did see an increase in wages in September. Hourly wages have now - are going up at a rate of almost 3 percent this year, so you're seeing a rise in wages. And that's important because the Federal Reserve is going to look at that when it meets in December and decides what to do about interest rates. I mean, always, they have this concern about inflation. You know, when do they start to rein in - increase interest rates and try to rein in the economy? So that's what they're going to be thinking about. There's a lot of debate about whether this is the right time to do that. But I think the wage numbers we see today will make it a bit more likely that we'll see an interest rate increase.

INSKEEP: Jim, thanks for the insight. Appreciate it.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jim Zarroli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.