In an unexpected improvement, the nation's unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September.

The report Friday from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics marked the first time the unemployment rate dropped below 8 percent since January 2009, when President Barack Obama took office. In August, the unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, and most economists expected it to stay above 8 percent in September.

The drop in the politically significant unemployment rate could bode well for Obama in next month's presidential election.

But in the same report, the bureau disclosed a more lackluster statistic: The economy added a modest 114,000 jobs in September, in line with some economists' expectations.

The contrast between the two statistics -- a declining unemployment rate and weak job growth -- underscores the different ways the two statistics are collected.

To gauge unemployment, the U.S. Census Bureau surveys 60,000 households. This survey captures an expansive view of the employment market by including the self-employed, agricultural workers and even private household workers, among others.

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The decline in the unemployment rate reflected a sharp rise in the ranks of employed workers in the survey. In September there were 873,000 more employed people than in August, the survey found. That increase was the biggest monthly jump since June 1983, according to Bloomberg News.

But to determine the increase in jobs -- a different statistic than employed persons -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys 141,000 businesses in a separate survey. The self-employed, agricultural and private household employment found in the household survey doesn't show up in the survey of businesses. Because of the larger size of the business jobs survey, it has a smaller margin of error than the household employment survey.

A much stronger job market will remain elusive until Congress provides more stimulus money to help create jobs, said Martin Melkonian, economics professor at Hofstra University in Hempstead.

Long Island's September unemployment data will be released in two weeks. In August, the rate rose to 7.8 percent, up from 7 percent a year earlier.

LIers looking for work

Kayla Friedman

@Newsday

Clerical

Friedman, 27, spent two months looking for a job and sent out "about 100 resumes." All led to dead ends. Eventually she landed an administrative assistant position at Alcott HR Group in Farmingdale. "Finding the right job was really difficult," said Friedman, who has more than seven years' experience working in offices.

Edgar Alvarez

Education

Alvarez, 31, put himself through college working nights and weekends at a Farmingdale restaurant. He graduated last year with a degree in Spanish, but he has been unable to find work as a teacher. The restaurant closed last month, leaving Alvarez out of work. "It's very rough because you apply to so many places, and you don't hear anything," he said.

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Marta Torres

Medical data analysis

Torres, who is 42 and works with cancer and tumors data, was weary of commuting an hour and 15 minutes each day from her East Northport home to a hospital in Stamford, Conn. She applied to the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and within a few weeks landed a position at Glen Cove Hospital, where she started in late July. "I was lucky," she said. "And I was relieved to get something closer to home."

-- JOE RYAN