The nation's unemployment rate dipped to 7.8 percent last month, edging below 8 percent for the first time in nearly four years.
It was a welcome decline from the previous month's 8.1 percent reading and it added fuel to the slow but steady gains the U.S. has seen over the past two years.
The latest figures, released Friday by the Labor Department, reveal that employers added 114,000 jobs in September. The department also said that 86,000 more jobs were added in July and August than had initially been estimated.
"I think they're good numbers," said Chris Thornberg, a founding partner with Beacon Economics in Los Angeles. "We've seen decent numbers in terms of the past couple of years. The labor force is expanding and many of these are good jobs - not just burger flippers."
Last month's unemployment rate fell because the number of people who said they were employed jumped by 873,000 - a hopeful sign for an economy that's been struggling to create enough jobs.
The biggest gains came in health care, which added 44,000 jobs. That was followed by transportation and warehousing, with another 17,000 jobs, and the financial sector, which boosted its payrolls by 13,000 jobs.
Manufacturing employment edged down in September with a loss of 16,000 jobs.
Last month's gains fell short of the 202,000 jobs that were added in September 2011, but the jobless rate back then was 9.
Drilling a little deeper, Friday's numbers look better and better.
In September 2010 the U.S. unemployment rate sat at 9.6 percent and 27,000 jobs were lost month over month. In September 2009 the rate was 9.8 percent with 199,000 jobs lost. The unemployment rate was lower in 2008, at just 6.2 percent. But 432,000 jobs were lost.
Speaking Friday in Fairfax, Va., Obama celebrated last month's drop in unemployment.
"We are moving forward again," the president said. "Today's news certainly is not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points. It is a reminder that the country has come too far to turn back now."
Presidential challenger Romney released a statement pointing out that the number of jobs added to employers' payrolls in September was lower than the revised 142,000 for August. He also noted that manufacturing has lost 600,000 jobs since Obama took office.
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," Romney said.
Jobless rates have remained far higher in Southern California, although they've been on the decline.
Los Angeles County's unemployment rate dipped to 11 percent in August compared with 11.2 percent in July and 12.5 percent a year earlier, the state Employment Development Department reported last month. The county posted a loss of 10,400 jobs over the month but added 74,000 new jobs over the year - the largest annual increase in more than a decade.
New employment numbers for Southern California are set to be released Oct. 19.
The Inland Empire saw its unemployment rate fall to 12.3 percent in August, down from a revised 12.7 percent the previous month and well below the year-ago rate of 13.9 percent. The two-county region - Southern California's hardest hit area in the housing meltdown - added 10,800 jobs over the month, the most of any region in the state. Year over year, Inland Empire payrolls were boosted with 25,400 new jobs.
"The September numbers are a continuation of what I believe we'll see, regardless of who is president," Inland Empire economist John Husing said. "It's a slow but persistent increase in the number of jobs. But we've now gained back 52 percent of the 8.7 million jobs we lost in the Great Recession."
One thing is certain - job seekers are still keenly aware of how difficult it is to land employment these days.
On Wednesday, William Rutz attended a career expo at the Foothill Workforce Investment Board in Pasadena.
"I'm looking," the 50-year-old Arcadia resident said. "I've been out of work for seven months. I was working in retail with Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, but there was a reduction in hours ... I guess it's the economy."
That economy has forced many to take jobs that pay far less than they were making before. George Gabriel, a customer service representative for Labor Ready in Newhall, said his clients are happy to land any kind of work.
"The jobs we place people in are mainly manual labor, from picking up paper that gets blown around at the landfill to demolition cleanup, or someone doing a bathroom remodel," he said. "Calls for work come in the day before or that morning. We're an on-demand company."
Gabriel said many of the people who come through his doors once had good-paying positions.
"They come from all over the place," he said. "Some used to be foremen, some were union workers ... some were managers."
Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said steady job growth has been happening - but not fast enough.
"If you take a look at the trend throughout the year, we've been adding jobs at a year-over-year rate of about 1.4 percent," he said. "That's a very consistent rate of gain, but it's still maybe about half of what we need to bring the unemployment rate down to what we would consider normal - about 6 percent."
Kleinhenz cautioned, however, that the employment picture runs deeper than some might think.
"By a broader definition, the unemployment rate is really around 14.7 percent when you count the discouraged people who have given up looking for work and those who have accepted part-time work for economic reasons," he said. "That rate is unchanged from August but down from 16.4 percent in September 2011."
Automatic Data Processing Inc., which also calculates monthly job figures and breaks them down by company size, said companies with fewer than 500 employees were responsible for 90 percent of the new jobs ADP reported being created in September.
The smallest businesses - those with fewer than 50 employees - created half of all the new jobs, ADP said. Large businesses created 17,000 new jobs, accounting for just 10 percent of the growth, the company said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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