Slow economic growth took its toll last month as the nation's civilian unemployment rate continued to rise, reaching 5.7 percent, and private payrolls dipped by 67,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

Those out of work -- now more than 7 million people -- on average are having a tougher time finding a new job, the department said, with half of them taking more than six weeks to do so. More employees who would prefer full-time jobs were able to find only part-time work.

Janet Norwood, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said the weakness in September's jobs data hit both factories and service industries. "Few areas of the economy are escaping the downward tug of the current economic slowdown," Norwood said.

Although there is a difference of opinion over whether there will be a recession, there is no dispute that the economy is performing poorly, with slow economic growth and worries over rising oil prices and the confrontation with Iraq hurting employment prospects.

"The nation's factories lost 65,000 jobs in September, the second-largest monthly loss since factory employment began decreasing in early 1989," Norwood told a Joint Economic Committee hearing. "The reductions now total more than half a million jobs."

With both commercial and residential real estate markets in trouble in many parts of the country, construction employment is also falling. Last month, construction jobs dropped by 20,000, the fourth consecutive monthly decline.

Since June, the unemployment rate has gone up half a percentage point after being remarkably stable for nearly 18 months. In August, the rate was 5.6 percent.

Figures released by the District government, meanwhile, showed virtually no new job creation in the metropolitan area during the past year. {See story, Page D12.}

A number of economists said the jobless figures confirm that the U.S. economy has entered a recession. Others maintained they were also consistent with an economy that is growing weakly but not actually declining, as it would in a recession.

Among the former was Robert Dederick, chief economist at the Northern Trust Co. of Chicago, who declared, "It's an economy that's started the slide down the slippery slope. The weakness has become more diffused, which is characteristic of an economy losing ground."

Bush administration economists, on the other hand, reiterated their belief that a recession has not begun. Similarly, economists and policy makers at the Federal Reserve believe economic growth is continuing.

In the record of an Aug. 21 meeting of the Fed's top policy-making group, the Federal Open Market Committee, released yesterday, both staff economists and a majority of the group's officials indicated they expect at least weak growth to be maintained despite the economic shock of soaring oil prices.

"In the absence of more pronounced or long-lasting disturbances from events in the Middle East, the {FOMC} members generally felt that limited growth in economic activity remained a reasonable expectation ... ," The statement said. "Some decline" in the inflation rate is likely, the statement added, but only after a "setback" in the short term.

Fed officials have been resisting pleas from the Bush administration to cut short-term interest rates. Rates have not been cut since early July, and at the August meeting "all the members indicated that they could support a steady policy, given the current uncertainties ... ," the record said.

Details of the September employment report suggested that even if the economy is in a slide, the slide is not very rapid. Even though there were fewer employees on private payrolls last month, the length of the average work week rose by two-tenths of an hour. As a result, more hours were worked in September than in August, an indication more goods and services were produced.

Employers often ask workers already on the job to work longer hours to meet any added demand for goods and services rather than hire additional employees, particularly when the immediate economic outlook is uncertain. Similarly, when some workers are laid off, other employees may be asked to make up part of the difference by working more hours.

Job growth in industries that produce services rather than goods also faltered.

"The services industry itself, which employs one in four nonfarm workers, is also experiencing a notable slackening. September's gain of only 20,000 jobs is one of the smallest since the 1981-82 recession," Norwood said.

The number of government employees also fell by 35,000, which was more than accounted for by the layoff of another 40,000 temporary workers hired to help with the census.

The unemployment rates for adult men and women both rose by one-tenth of a point last month, to 5.1 percent and 5 percent, respectively. The rate for teenagers dipped from 16.7 percent to 15.5 percent. The rate for white workers was unchanged at 4.8 percent while that for blacks rose from 11.8 percent to 12.1 percent. Unemployment among workers of Hispanic origin also rose from 7.8 percent to 8.7 percent.