Unemployment falls below 6 percent for first time since 2008

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NEW YORK — The nation’s unemployment rate fell below 6% in September for the first time in six years.

The rate came in at 5.9%, while employers added 248,000 jobs last month.

The hiring boost came after a surprisingly weak August, though the Department of Labor Friday revised that month’s figure upward to 180,000 jobs. Still, August was the first time figures came in below 200,000 since January.

The consensus forecast from economists surveyed by CNNMoney was for a jobs gain of 215,000 jobs and an unemployment rate of 5.9%

This jobs report is being closely followed because economic data in recent days has been mixed. Everyone from Wall Street investors to Washington powerbrokers are trying to figure out if the U.S. is truly on solid footing or likely to slide back in its recovery like Europe has.

A key figure to watch is whether American wages are growing. Average hourly earnings changed little last month. They are up 2% over the past 12 months, just slightly ahead of inflation, which means most U.S. workers won’t feel any better off.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and other officials are closely monitoring the monthly jobs report. They are waiting for hiring to become healthy enough before raising interest rates.

Americans’ views on hiring are mixed, however.

Gallup’s U.S. Job Creation Index reached a six-year high in September, with 42% of employees surveyed saying their employer is hiring and expanding the size of its workforce. Companies are the ones adding to their payrolls, with the government sector continuing to shrink.

But others say there aren’t that many job openings out there, especially for positions offering decent wages.

“It’s still hard to find a good-paying job,” said Jabari Jones, 32, a Forest Park, Ga., resident who said he was fortunate to recently land a $20 hourly job at Coca-Cola.