WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers added just 88,000 jobs in March, the fewest in nine months and a sharp retreat after a period of strong hiring. The slowdown in job growth may signal that the economy is heading into a weak spring.
The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate dipped to 7.6 percent, the lowest in four years, from 7.7 percent. But the rate fell last month only because more people stopped looking for work. People who are out of work are no longer counted as unemployed once they stop looking for a job.
The percentage of Americans working or looking for jobs fell to 63.3 percent in March, the lowest such figure in nearly 34 years.
Stock futures sank after the jobs report was released at 8.
March's job gains were half the pace of the previous six months, when the economy added an average of 196,000 jobs a month. The government said hiring was even stronger in the previous two months than previously estimated. February's job gains were revised to 268,000, up from 236,000. January job growth was raised to 148,000, up from 119,000.
Several industries cut back sharply on hiring in March. Retailers cut 24,000 jobs after averaging 32,000 in the previous three months. Manufacturers cut 3,000 jobs after adding 19,000 the previous month. Financial services shed 2,000.
The number of people either working or looking for work fell by nearly 500,000 last month. It was sharpest such drop since December 2010. And the number of Americans who said they were employed dropped nearly 210,000.
Average hourly pay rose a penny, the smallest gain in five months. Average pay is just 1.8 percent higher than a year earlier, trailing the pace of inflation, which rose 2 percent in the past 12 months.
"This is not a good report through and through," Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at brokerage firm BTIG, said in a note to clients.