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 is a reminder that the job market's path back to full health will be uneven.
The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate dipped to 7.6 percent from 7.7 percent. While that is the lowest in four years, the rate fell only because more people stopped looking for work. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively looking for a job.
The weakness in March may signal that some companies were worried last month about steep government spending cuts that began on March 1.
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 drop raises fears that the economy could slow after a showing signs of strengthening over the winter.