The national unemployment rate dropped in September to 7.8 percent, falling under the 8 percent mark for the first time since January 2009.
The decline, reported this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was significant not just psychologically for breaking the 8 percent barrier, but also numerically, falling three-tenths of a percentage point from August's rate of 8.1 percent and a full half of a percentage point since July.
The number of people who were working in September rose by 873,000, a number that is derived by a survey of homes across the nation.
A separate indicator, the number of jobs gained based on a survey of employers, showed job gains, but not by the margin reflected in the survey of households that determines the unemployment rate. Employers reported hiring an additional 114,000 workers during the month.
Big gains were seen in health care, with 43,500 new jobs in that sector.
There were 400 jobs lost in oil and gas extraction and the manufacture of primary metals, which cut 3,400 jobs.
The September employment report may be the last that might sway undecided voters. The October jobs report will be released only four days before Election Day.
Romney released a statement that focused on the job figures, which declined in September from August. He also noted that manufacturing has lost 600,000 jobs since Obama took office.
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," Romney said in a statement.
But Sal Guatieri, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, said the report signals improvement.
"An overall better-than-expected jobs report, consistent with most recent data that suggest the economy is gaining some momentum," Guatieri said in a note to clients. "The sizeable drop in the unemployment rate could lift the president's re-election chances following a post-debate dip."
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was asked on CNBC about suspicions that the Obama administration might have skewed the jobs numbers to aid Obama's re-election prospects.
"I'm insulted when I hear that because we have a very professional civil service," Solis said. "I have the highest regard for our professionals that do the calculations at the (Bureau of Labor Statistics). They are trained economists."
Not long after the report was released, General Electric CEO Jack Welch accused the Obama administration of manipulating the numbers.
"Unbelievable jobs numbers.. these Chicago guys will do anything... can't debate so change numbers," Welch's tweet read.
The job market has been improving, sluggishly but steadily. Jobs have been added for 24 straight months. There are now 325,000 more than when Obama took office.
Ann Belser: email@example.com or 412-263-1699. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.