Job Growth Slows, Clouds Case for Fed Rate Hike

U.S. employment growth unexpectedly slowed for the third straight month in September, which could make the Federal Reserve more cautious about raising interest rates.

Nonfarm payrolls rose 156,000, down from a revised gain of 167,000 jobs in August, the Labor Department said on Friday.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected employers to add 175,000 jobs last month.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said the economy needs to create less than 100,000 jobs a month to keep up with population growth.Average monthly job gains have been about 180,000 this year, which Yellen has described as "unsustainable."

The unemployment rate ticked up a tenth of a percentage point to 5.0 percent last month, though the increase was driven by Americans rejoining the labor force.

Friday's employment report will be the last before the Fed's Nov. 1-2 policy meeting. Investors see almost no chance of a rate increase at that meeting given how close it is to the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Yellen said last month that the Fed will likely raise rates once this year, but prices on fed funds futures suggest just above even odds the hike will come at the Fed's last policy meeting for the year in December.

Hourly wages for private sector workers rose 2.6 percent in September from the same month a year earlier, in line with economists' expectations. The annual growth rate has shown signs of accelerating over the last year although it remains slower than before the 2007-2009 recession.

Three Fed policymakers voted for a hike last month when the Fed kept rates steady. However, Friday's data could boost the case of Fed policymakers who have vocally defended a go-slow approach to rate increases.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has accused the Fed of playing politics by holding rates low, a charge Yellen and other Fed policymakers have denied.

Trump has also made reversing job losses at U.S. factories a central campaign promise. Manufacturing employment fell by 13,000 jobs in September and the sector has shed jobs in three of the last five months.

At the same time, the job market on balance continues to firm, even if at a slower pace, which could be an asset for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton who has argued that President Barack Obama, also a Democrat, has helped the economy.

The Fed lifted its benchmark overnight interest rate at the end of last year for the first time in nearly a decade, but has held it steady so far this year amid concerns over persistently low inflation.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Paul Simao)