Employers added a meager 142,000 jobs in September, the government said last Friday. And the average job gain for each of the past three months — 167,000 — is well below the 231,000 average for the previous three.

The numbers renew doubts about a job market in which steady hiring and the consumer spending it drives were expected to fuel continued healthy economic growth.

For months, the U.S. job market cruised as the rest of the world struggled. Not so much anymore.

JPMorgan Chase now estimates that the economy grew at a mere 1.5 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter.

Economy Uppermost in Minds of Fed Decision-Makers

The economy is uppermost in the minds of Federal Reserve decision-makers as they consider whether to raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade. Vulnerabilities in U.S. manufacturing reflect a struggling global economy, and wages still aren’t growing much.

Some signs of strength remain. Unemployment is just 5.1 percent, down steeply from the 10 percent it reached after the Great Recession.

Employers Want People with College Degrees

These days, employers want people with college degrees. The demand is part of a larger shift in the composition of the workforce:

Nearly 35 percent of jobs now belong to college grads, up from 30 percent right before the recession began in December 2007 — an increase of 8.6 million jobs for the college educated. College grads also enjoy a low unemployment rate of 2.5 percent, less than half the overall 5.1 percent rate.

But it’s a tough job market for people with only a high school diploma or no diploma at all.

Employers have cut these workers over the past year. Unemployment for high school dropouts rose last month to 7.9 percent, putting it substantially above the overall rate. And the percentage of high school graduates who either have a job or are looking for one is at just 56.9 percent.

The participation rate for Americans as a whole is 62.4 percent, the lowest since 1977. The exodus of less educated workers — due either to retirement or discouragement — accounts for much of that drop.