Economists had been expecting a payrolls gain of 193,000 and the unemployment rate to decline one-tenth of a point to 4 percent. After a hiring spree in February, the construction and retail sectors let go of more people than they brought on board in March. That was the smallest amount since last September and followed a 326,000 surge in February. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have risen by 71 cents, or 2.7%.
The jobless rate stayed flat at 4.1 percent, and wage growth rose slightly, up just 2.7 percent from March 2017. That's still below the pre-recession level, which suggests that steady economic growth could continue to pull more job-seekers off the sidelines.
The job figures come as concern grows about a trade war between the United States and China.
The average workweek for all employees was unchanged at 34.5 hours in March.
There is hope that wage growth will accelerate in the second half of the year and allow the US central bank to continue raising interest rates.
The Fed increased borrowing costs last month and forecast two more interest rate hikes this year. Economists do not see an impact on hiring in the near-term from the stock market selloff, which has caused a tightening in financial conditions. (Monthly revisions result from additional reports received from businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal factors.) After revisions, job gains have averaged 202,000 over the last 3 months. He is scheduled to speak at 12:30 p.m. local time in Chicago.
Paul Ashworth, Chief U.S. Economist at Capital Economics, said the substantial slowdown in job growth is a good illustration of the inherent volatility in the non-farm payroll data.
The low unemployment rate may also be making it hard to find workers, they said.
Manufacturing and health care industries each added 22,000 jobs in March.
The jobs numbers are closely watched by Federal Reserve policymakers. "So, hiring gains should be slowing at this point in the expansion".
The solid run of hiring and bigger after-tax paychecks will help sustain growth in consumer spending, which is nonetheless projected to cool in the first quarter following the strongest quarter in three years.
And last month, factories expanded at a healthy pace after having grown in February at the fastest rate since 2004, according to a private survey.