The Labor Department said Friday that employers added 114,000 jobs last month. The economy also created 86,000 more jobs in July and August than expected. Also, wages rose in September and more people started looking for work.
The numbers show that employers added 146,000 jobs per month from July through September. This is up from 67,000 in the previous three months. The unemployment rate fell from 8.1 percent in August, matching its level in January 2009 when President Barack Obama took office.
This decline could help Mr. Obama, who is coming off a lackluster debate performance against GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama said the report showed the country "has come too far to turn back now."
Romney, countered: "This is not what a real recovery looks like."
The job market has been improving, albeit slowly. Jobs have been added for 24 months in a row. There are now 325,000 more than when Mr. Obama took office.
The September gains were led by the health care industry, which added 44,000 jobs, the highest number since February. Large gains were also see in transportation and warehousing. The revisions showed that governments actually added 63,000 jobs in July and August, compared with earlier estimates that showed losses.
However, many of the jobs added last month were part time. The number of people with part-time jobs who wanted full-time work rose 7.5 percent to 8.6 million.
Economist Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, called the strong employment reports "a shocker" that showed the job market was sturdier than most economists had thought. But financial markets seemed less impressed. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed as much as 86 points in early trading but drifted lower for most of the rest of the day. It finished up 34 points at 13,610.
The unemployment figures were so surprisingly strong that some pundits and at least one member of Congress, Florida Republican Allen West, accused the Obama administration of manipulating the statistics to help the president's prospects.
"It appears that Obama has hired infamous Iraqi Information Minister Baghdad Bob to calculate the unemployment rate. Anyone who takes this unemployment report serious is either naïve or a paid Obama campaign adviser," Americans for Limited Government, a conservative group, said in a statement.
The October jobs report comes out Nov. 2, four days before the election, so Friday's report provided one of the final snapshots of the economy as undecided voters make up their minds.
ABC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.