Job growth was weighed down by losses in manufacturing, retail and information services, while the unemployment rate in September remained steady at 5.4 percent, the Labor Department estimated.
Much of the growth last month occurred in government hiring, which resulted in 37,000 net new jobs. The services sector also posted modest growth in the professional and business industries, which added 34,000 jobs overall; financial services, which added 26,000 jobs; and the leisure and hospitality category, which expanded hiring by 13,000.
Still, the September job-creation total fell far short of Wall Street economists' forecasts for 148,000 new jobs.
September's net increase of 96,000 payroll jobs was less than August's rise, which the Labor Department revised downward from 144,000 to 128,000 it reported a month ago.
The latest figures show four straight months of weak job growth after three strong months in the spring. It was the final jobs report before the Nov. 2 presidential election with polls indicating that jobs are a central concern of voters.
Though four hurricanes swept through the Southeast during August and September, which the department report said likely held down employment growth, the Labor report concluded the impact was minimal.
The Labor Department also said that the economy added about 236,000 more jobs than previously thought in the year ending March 2004, and it will incorporate the upward figure into benchmark revisions issued in February.
With the new report, President Bush will head into next month's election with a jobs deficit, which could present a challenge to his reelection bid and fuel for Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry in the presidential debate Friday night.
Indeed, Sen. Kerry on Friday seized on the data, calling it "another disappointing jobs report."
"Our economy has failed to create even enough jobs to cover new workers coming into the job market, not to speak of the millions who are unemployed, working in part-time or temporary jobs or who have given up and dropped out," the Democratic presidential candidate said in a statement.
But Labor Secretary Elaine Chao offered another interpretation, noting that since the economy "has been through a great deal lately -- devastating hurricanes and rising oil prices," the new figures show "the strength and resilience of our economy and that the labor market continues to improve."
Commerce Secretary Don Evans also emphasized that it was a 13th straight month of job creation and said "we've had job gains despite being in a wartime economy," a theme the president is expected to emphasize during the debate.
After factoring in the expected Labor Department revision, there are about 585,000 fewer nonfarm jobs since President Bush took office in January 2001. Without the projected change, a total of 821,000 jobs have been lost since he took office, according to Reuters.
-- Compiled from wire reports and other media sources