WASHINGTON -- Hurricanes Harvey and Irma walloped the labor market last month, causing the nation to lose jobs for the first time in seven years, the Labor Department said Friday.
Total nonfarm employment declined by 33,000 net jobs in September compared with an upwardly revised gain of 169,000 the previous month. The Labor Department said 1.5 million workers -- the most in 20 years -- were not at their jobs during the survey week last month because of bad weather.
Restaurants and bars took the biggest hit. Total employment in September declined by 105,000 "as many workers were off payrolls due to the recent hurricanes," the Labor Department said.
The sector had averaged job growth of 24,000 over the previous 12 months.
Analysts had expected the major hurricanes that devastated large parts of Texas and Florida would significantly reduce job growth in September, but the decline was much bigger than expected.
"The first thing that comes to mind here is the scene in 'The Wizard of Oz,' where we hear the line 'pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at financial information website Bankrate.Com.
"Because of the impacts from hurricanes and flooding, the decline reported in September payrolls doesn't carry weight this time around," he said.
Although much of the report will be discounted because of the temporary weather effects, there were some good signs.
The unemployment rate, which is calculated differently, declined to 4.2 percent in September, from 4.4 percent the previous month. That was the lowest level since 2001.
And average hourly earnings jumped by 12 cents in September to $26.55. That was the biggest increase since 2007. For the 12 months ended Sept. 30, wages were up 2.9 percent, well above the low inflation rate.