Weak US jobs data delivers blow for Bush

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The Independent Online

President Bush's re-election hopes suffered a blow yesterday with news that the economy created just 96,000 new jobs in September, considerably fewer than expected.

The returns, the last before the 2 November election, sent the dollar lower and increased speculation that the Federal Reserve may not increase int-erest rates when it next meets.

Though the headline unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.4 per cent, the latest figures from the Labor Department mean that Mr Bush's will be the first administration in more than 70 years to have presided over a net loss of jobs.

The Department did revise upwards the total of new jobs created in the 12 months to last March, by 236,000. Even so, the net loss of jobs since Mr Bushy entered office in January 2001 has been almost 600,000 - a fact John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, was bound to seize upon in last night's candidates' debate.

"The verdict is in," Mr Kerry said. "The economy is now 7 million jobs behind where the administration projected in February 2002 it would now be if we followed the President's economic plan." Moreover, he claimed, the new jobs created paid less than those being lost, and often without health care and pension coverage.

The Bush campaign hit back by pointing out that the total of new jobs created had now risen for 13 straight months. Eleain Chao, the Labor Secretary, claimed the September figures were proof of the "the strength and resilience of our economy", despite difficulties including hurricanes and rising oil prices.

The statement accompanying the figures, however, indicated that the hurricanes did not have much effect. Economists moreover pointed out that the September results were well short of the average 150,000 new jobs required each month simply to keep pace with an expanding labour force.