In most cases debates have little effect on US presidential elections, but this time it could be different.
The US unemployment rate has dropped to a near four-year low of 7.8 per cent in September, a potential boost to President Barack Obama’s re-election bid.
The US labour department says the unemployment rate, a key focus in the race for the White House, dropped by 0.3 percentage points to its lowest point since January 2009 as employers added 114,000 workers to their payrolls.
The drop in the unemployment rate, reported on Friday, reflected an even bigger surge in new jobs captured by a survey of households and came even as Americans returned to the job market to resume the hunt for work.
The workforce had shrank in the prior two months.
Payrolls for July and August were revised to show 86,000 more jobs created than previous reported, mostly to reflect
increases in government employment.
The jobless rate is now where it was when Obama took office in January 2009.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Washington, said “114,000 is not a great figure, but great news for the Obama campaign”.
“Unemployment from 8.1 per cent to 7.8 per cent is a big win for Obama,” he said. “For Romney it makes it harder for him to attack Obama’s record.”
“Today I believe that as a nation we are moving forward again,” Obama told an enthusiastic crowd at a campaign rally at
George Mason University in Virginia.
“More Americans entered the workforce, more people are getting jobs.”
“It’s a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now,” said Obama.
Romney had made the president’s failure to drive the jobless rate below eight per cent a key plank in his campaign, so the drop to the lowest level since January 2009 could deprive him of some ammunition in the final sprint toward the November 6 election.
Reacting to the data, Romney said the economy remained weak and noted that the unemployment rate would be closer to 11 per cent if it included those who had given up looking for work.
“This is not what a real recovery looks like,” he said in a statement.
The latest official data showed that the construction sector added 5,000 jobs last month, while the number of people working in government jobs rose by 10,000.
However, the biggest gain was record in the healthcare sector, which added 44,000 jobs in September.
Household employment has increased 873,000, the most since June 1983, according to the household survey.
The bulk of the gains were part-time jobs.
“There is something in these numbers for everyone. The rise in the participation rate shows somewhat of a real improvement in the labour market,” Omer Esiner, chief market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington, said.