America's unemployment rate posted its third consecutive increase in September, rising to 5.7 percent, the government reported Friday as the economy continued to flash warning signals of an impending recession.

The 0.1 percentage point increase pushed the jobless rate to its highest level since the spring of 1988 and private economists predicted even higher unemployment figures in the months ahead, reflecting a deteriorating U.S. economy.More industries lost jobs than gained them in September, causing an overall loss of 101,000 jobs from non-farm payrolls, the Labor Department said. About 42,000 of those were census workers laid off by the government.

While the Bush administration continues to insist that the country can avoid a recession, a growing number of economists think the country has either already entered a recession or will be in one before the end of the year.

"We're sliding over the edge, not precipitously, but nonetheless, that's what's happening," said Robert Dederick, chief economist at the Northern Trust Co. of Chicago.

Last month's 5.7 percent jobless rate was the highest since it was that same level in March 1988; the unemployment rate hasn't been worse since it was 5.8 percent in November 1987.

The nation's employment picture began a downward spiral in July as the nation's economy began failing to produce enough jobs to keep up with the number of Americans looking for work. Since then, the jobless rate has risen 0.4 percentage points from June's rate of 5.2 percent.

The rapid jump in the jobless rate over the past three months reflected a U.S. economy that was showing little signs of life even before Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait sent oil prices soaring and increased fears of an imminent downturn.

The 101,000-job loss in September, though inflated by the census workers, was the biggest job decline since the economy lost 104,000 jobs in June 1986, the government said. A year ago, the economy was producing nearly 200,000 new jobs a month.

The slump in the manufacturing sector continued in September as factory jobs posted a 66,000 job loss.