By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. job growth likely picked up a bit in September, suggesting the economy enjoyed rising momentum before an acrimonious budget fight in Washington took some of the wind out of its sails.
Nonfarm payrolls are expected to have increased by 180,000 workers, a step up from August's gain of 169,000, according to a Reuters survey of economists. The unemployment rate is seen having held steady at a near five-year low of 7.3 percent.
The Labor Department will release its closely watched monthly employment report on Tuesday, more than two weeks later than originally scheduled because of the partial shutdown of the federal government earlier this month.
The data regularly sets the tone for global financial markets. Economists, however, said the shutdown has lessened its importance, with officials at the Federal Reserve likely to hold off any decision on scaling back the U.S. central bank's bond buying until the extent of the economic damage from the budget fight is clearer.
"They haven't had good information on the economy. We know there is an extra layer of drags due to the shutdown. The Fed is going to take a cautious approach," said Robert Dye, chief economist at Comerica in Dallas.
Fed officials will meet next week to discuss monetary policy, on October 29-30. They surprised markets last month by sticking to their $85 billion per month bond-buying pace, saying they wanted to see more evidence of a strong recovery.
Now, many economists think the Fed will hold off on scaling back economic stimulus until next year.
"We continue to believe that the first tapering will not be seen before March," said Michelle Girard, chief economist at RBS in Stamford, Connecticut.
Economists estimate the 16-day government shutdown shaved as much as 0.6 percentage point off annualized fourth-quarter gross domestic product, through reduced government output and damage to both consumer and business confidence.
They fear that lawmakers will engage in another bruising round early next year when Congress must agree on a budget to fund the government and once again raise the nation's borrowing limit.
HOPES FOR FALL IN UNEMPLOYMENT
If job growth accelerates as expected in September, it would top the average gain of 160,000 seen over the past six months.
"It's more than enough over time to keep the unemployment rate coming down," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York. "Overall, the economy is chugging along, but we have to see how the whole budget saga affects the trend."
The unemployment rate has declined 0.6 percentage point so far this year, though some of the decrease has been because people are dropping out of the labour force, partly due to frustration over dim job prospects.
The pattern of employment gains in September is expected to mirror the prior months, with the private sector creating all the jobs.
Government payrolls are expected to have been unchanged after increasing by 17,000 in August. Economists attributed some of the rise in August to difficulties adjusting for seasonal fluctuations at the start of the new school year.
Within the private sector, a rebound is expected in employment in the information sector, which dropped by 18,000 in August as the motion picture industry shed workers.
Little change is expected in construction payrolls, which have been weak in recent months, suggesting a levelling off in home building.
Manufacturing probably saw modest job gains, while retail employment is expected to have again advanced solidly.
Other details of the employment report are expected to be fairly encouraging, with average hourly earnings rising 0.2 percent in September. The length of the average workweek was seen steady at 34.5 hours.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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- unemployment rate