Hurricanes Harvey and Irma damaged not only Texas and Florida but also the U.S. jobs picture, as payrolls fell by 33,000 in September. That drop came even as the unemployment rate fell to a 16-year low of 4.2 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.
The jobs loss was the first monthly decline in seven years, when the economy was still pulling out of the Great Recession.
Even with the surprise jobs number, the closely watched hourly wages figure jumped higher, to an annualized rate of 2.9 percent.
Economists surveyed by Reuters expected payroll growth of 90,000 in September, compared with 169,000 in August. The unemployment rate was expected to hold steady at 4.4 percent. It declined even as the labor-force participation rate rose to 63.1 percent, its highest level all year and the best reading since March 2014.
"The lousy returns from the September jobs report will make little impression on observers, who essentially gave the labor market a free pass due to the impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma," said Curt Long, chief economist at the National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions.
An alternate number that includes discouraged workers as well as those working part-time for economic reasons also tumbled, falling from 8.6 percent to 8.3 percent, its lowest reading since June 2007.
The number was expected to be lower than usual due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hammered Texas and Florida, respectively, as well as other states. Federal Reserve policymakers watch the report closely to help guide future policy, though this month's report may be treated as outlier due to the weather impact.