The nation added 120,000 jobs in March, a disappointing turn of events for analysts who projected average gains of 200,000 jobs, according to government data.
The unemployment rate dropped slightly to 8.2%, the lowest rate since January of 2009, according to the Labor Department.
Analysts with research firm Econoday said, "Today's jobs report was clearly disappointing though the unemployment rate dipped to 8.2%. Payroll jobs in March advanced a modest 120,000, following increases of 240,000 in February (originally 227,000) and 275,000 in January (prior estimate up 284,000). The net revisions for January and February were up 4,000. Analysts expected a 201,000 increase for March."
The number of long-term unemployed remained unchanged from February at 5.3 million, accounting for 42.5% of the entire unemployed population.
The new jobs data, which may shock some market participants, is somewhat in line with earlier reports that took a more pessimistic approach. Markets were closed Friday for the Good Friday/Easter weekend, but analysts expect stocks to take a hit on the bad news come Monday.
TrimTabs Investment Research projected 187,000 jobs added in March this week.
"The real-time data supports our view that the U.S. economy is stuck in slow-growth mode," Madeline Schnapp, director of macroeconomic research at TrimTabs, said in the company's report.
Capital Economics still sees the U.S. jobs report in a mostly positive light. "We don't think this is the start of another spring dip in labor market condiitons as we saw in 2010 and 2011," Capital Economics said of the lower-than-expected figures. "Even factoring in the March disappointment, the three-month average gain is still 212,000, and we expect employment to continue rising at about that pace over the next few months."
It said Friday's numbers are a good "reminder that the U.S. recovery is not suddenly going to transform into a spectacular success, particularly not at a time when the rest of the world economy is stumbling."
Doug Duncan, chief economist for Fannie Mae, added "It is likely that the magnitude of the prior months’ gains overstated the underlying strength of the job market, as warm winter weather pulled forward seasonal job growth. It should take several months before we get a clear picture of the true health of the job market."