NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Friday's monthly jobs report changed the picture of the U.S. economy in more ways than one, showing the unemployment rate fell to the lowest level in more than three years and hiring was stronger than originally reported throughout the summer.
Unemployment unexpectedly fell to 7.8% in September, down from 8.1%, as a survey of U.S. households showed 873,000 more Americans had jobs compared to a month earlier.
The last time the unemployment rate was that low was in January 2009, the month President Obama was inaugurated.
The biggest gains came in the form of 582,000 new part-time jobs. Workers with less than a high school degree saw their unemployment rate fall the most dramatically, to 11.3% from 12% in August, whereas workers with a bachelors' degree or higher continued to have a 4.1% unemployment rate for the fourth month in a row.
A separate survey of employers, considered the key metric that Wall Street watches, showed businesses added 114,000 jobs in September. It marked a slowdown in hiring, after July and August were revised significantly higher.
Those revisions added 86,000 more jobs than originally reported in the summer. Stocks rose in morning trading.
Ever since the financial crisis, the monthly jobs report has been the most intensely watched economic metric, but in election season, attention surrounding the numbers has reached new heights.
The Labor Department collects the data monthly, using both a survey of employers and a smaller survey of households. The two surveys don't always tell the same story on the first read, but over time, the data is revised to reflect more accurate information.
Commentators from both sides of the political spectrum were quick to jump on the numbers Friday morning as both a sign that the job market has improved since Obama entered office, and conversely, that economic growth remains far too slow to pull millions of Americans out of unemployment.
Both points are correct.
Although the unemployment rate is right back to where it was when Obama entered office, the U.S. economy has still not recovered all the jobs lost before his inauguration.
Of the 8.8 million jobs cut during the recession, about 4.3 million have been added back. The Labor Department signaled last week that it may revise the job gains higher, but even so, the job market still has a long way to go before it's fully healed.
About 12.1 million people were unemployed in September, and 40% of them have been so for six months or more.
The so-called "underemployment rate," which includes people who are working part time for economic reasons, and those who have recently dropped out of the labor force, was 14.7% in September.