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Women came out ahead but factory workers lost ground as the nation's unemployment rate dropped 0.1 percentage point, to 7.4 percent, in September, the Labor Department said Friday.

There were 211,000 fewer women unemployed, giving them a jobless rate of 6.7 percent, compared with 7.1 percent in August.

But 125,000 factory jobs were lost, ''the first statistically significant over-the-month decline in nearly two years,'' Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Janet Norwood said.

The number of unemployed stayed at 8.5 million, but the jobless rate still dropped slightly because civilian employment in September was 105.2 million, up slightly from August.

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