September was a month of stress for the U.S. economy. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, hundreds of thousands of people along the Gulf Coast were unemployed, and prices for gasoline and other commodities rose nationwide. But in the Washington region, the job picture improved.

According to the Labor Department, the unemployment rate in the District fell to 5.7 percent in September from 6.1 percent in August. In Maryland, it was down to 3.9 percent from 4.3 percent. In Virginia, it was down to 3.5 percent from 3.7 percent.

Maryland employers added 6,200 jobs in September, and Virginia employers added 3,200. The new jobs help explain the lower unemployment. The District, though, has lost jobs, the reverse of the trend that characterized the city's economy in 2004 and the beginning of 2005. Then, the city was adding plenty of jobs, while the unemployment rate shot up -- for reasons that are unclear.

The surveys on which the job data are based are conducted the second week of each month. At that point in September, any broad impact of the hurricanes would be unlikely to have percolated through the U.S. economy. The October payroll numbers will be interesting on that score. It's still an open question whether higher fuel prices have made employers more cautious about hiring.

-- Neil Irwin