(CN) – American employers fell short of expectations and added just 136,000 jobs in September, while the U.S. trade deficit widened as imports and exports both ticked up.
The number of new jobs fell below the 150,000 increase predicted by economists, but the unemployment rate fell to a new 50-year low of 3.5%, the Labor Department reported Friday. Job gains have averaged 157,000 over the past three months.
Average hourly earnings are up 2.9% from a year ago, the lowest annual gain since July 2018.
The modest jobs increase could mean the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates for a third time on Oct. 30, after doing so in late July and again last month.
The Commerce Department also reported Friday that the trade deficit – the difference between the number of goods and services the United States sells and buys from other countries – grew to $54.9 billion in August, up from $54 billion the month before.
The closely watched goods deficit with China dropped 3.1% to $31.8 billion. President Donald Trump has made closing the gap with Beijing a top priority, claiming the imbalance is the result of bad deals by past administrations, and has utilized tariffs in an ongoing trade war in an attempt to lower the deficit.
Overall exports rose 0.2% in August to $207.9 billion, while imports jumped 0.5% to $262.8 billion.
The economy marked 10 consecutive years of expansion this summer, the longest streak on record. And while the economy is still expanding, that growth has slowed so far this year.
As the trade war with China drags on, American manufacturers cut 2,000 jobs in September and the retail sector lost 11,400 positions. Health care added 41,400 jobs, while professional and business services gained 34,000.
The Commerce Department said in July that the growth in the gross domestic product, a primary indicator of economic health, dropped to 2.1% in the second quarter, down from 3.1% in the first.
Economists expect yearly growth of about 2.5% in 2019, a decrease from 2.9% last year.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Friday that the economy is in a “good place” overall despite facing some risks. He said the central bank’s goal is to “keep it there as long as possible.”
Speaking at a listening session, Powell did not indicate whether the Fed will cut rates again later this month.