Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
Employers added a disappointing 148,000 jobs in September, extending a summer slowdown in payroll growth.
The unemployment rate fell to 7.2% from 7.3%, the Labor Department said Tuesday.
The closely-watched survey was scheduled to be released Oct. 4, but was delayed by the federal government shutdown.
Economists' consensus forecast had estimated that 180,000 jobs were added last month.
Several reports fueled hopes for a strengthening job market in September. Initial unemployment claims fell to post-recession lows and a measure of manufacturing activity rose solidly. The anticipation was tempered by payroll processor ADP's survey that showed businesses added a disappointing 166,000 jobs last month.
Monthly job gains slowed over the summer after averaging about 200,000 earlier this year, according to the Labor Department. The dip helped prompt the Federal Reserve to delay tapering its $85 billion a month in bond-buying in September.
In the fourth quarter, meanwhile, economic and job growth had been expected to ratchet higher as the effects of federal spending cuts fade and the housing recovery and low household debt levels spur more consumer and business spending. But the recent shutdown and the budget deadlock in Congress has led many economists to push back those expectations into next year.