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Net job losses in September exceed forecasts as the reality of a slow-paced recovery sets in.

WASHINGTON - The U.S. unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in September, the highest level since June 1983, as employers cut far more jobs than expected.

The unemployment rate rose from 9.7 percent in August, matching expectations.

The report shows that the worst recession since the 1930s is still inflicting widespread pain and underscores one of the biggest threats to the nascent economic recovery: that consumers, worried about job losses and stagnant wages, will restrain spending.

Florida's unemployment rate for September will be reported Oct. 16 by the Agency for Workforce Innovation. The state's jobless rate was 10.7 percent in August, down from July's revised 10.8, state officials reported last month. Florida was one of just 16 states to post a decrease for August.

Most analysts expect the economy to continue to improve, but at a slow, uneven pace. Government stimulus efforts, such as the Cash for Clunkers auto rebates, likely boosted the economy in the July-September quarter, but economists worry that growth will slow once the impact of such programs fades.

"Consumers ... are going to struggle to increase their income," said Brian Fabbri, North American chief economist for BNP Paribas. "If they're struggling, they're not consuming. That just takes some of the legs out of recovery."

The Labor Department said 571,000 of the unemployed dropped out of the work force last month, presumably out of frustration over the lack of jobs. That sent the participation rate, or the percentage of the population either working or looking for work, to a 23-year low.

Persistent joblessness could pose political problems for President Barack Obama, who pushed through an ambitious $787 billion stimulus package in February intended to "save or create" 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010.

Republicans note that job losses have continued despite the stimulus. "Wasteful government spending is not the solution to what ails this economy," said Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican caucus.

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By the numbers

9.8 percent U.S. unemployment rate, highest since June 1983

263,000 U.S. jobs lost in September, far exceeding Wall Street economists' expectations of 180,000 jobs

15.1 million Number of Americans out of work

7.2 million Number of jobs eliminated since the recession began in December 2007

17 percent Jobless rate, if laid-off workers who have settled for part-time work or have given up looking for new jobs are included

5.4 million Record number of people out of work for six months or longer