The US economy added just 88,000 jobs in March, the lowest increase for nine months, official data has shown.
The number was much weaker than the rise of approximately 200,000 predicted by economists, and will inevitably raise new concerns about the strength of the US economic recovery.
At the same time, the US jobless rate declined to 7.6% from 7.7% in February.
A drop in retail employment was a major factor behind the disappointing rise in overall job creation.
The data from the Labor Department showed that the retail sector lost 24,000 jobs in March.
Other sectors of the economy performed much better, with 51,000 extra professional and business services jobs being created, and 23,000 new healthcare positions.
March’s rise in job creation was half the level of the past six months, when there was an average monthly decline of 196,000.
Some economists expect Federal spending cuts, which came into effect on 1 March, to have had an impact on confidence among companies and the numbers of people hired.
The total number of unemployed in the US in March was 11.7 million.
For adult men, the unemployment rate was 6.9%, and 7% for women.
For teenagers of both sexes, the rate was 24.2%, almost one in four people.
“The US economy just hit a major speed bump,” said Marcus Bullus, trading director at MB Capital in London.