The U.S. economy added 88,000 jobs in March, and the nation’s unemployment rate edged down to 7.6 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.
The government said employment grew in professional and business services and in health care but declined in retail trade. The number of unemployed people fell to 11.7 million from 12 million a month earlier.
Reuters reported that hiring in March was the slowest in nine months and that the jobless rate declined largely because people dropped out of the work force. Analysts that Reuters polled had expected the economy to gain 200,000 jobs in March.
The news service said the slowdown in job growth reverses a recent trend that saw the labor market appear to quicken the pace of recovery. The development also follows a tax increase and across-the-board federal budget cuts.
The government report said employment growth had averaged 169,000 a month during the prior 12 months. The gain in January was revised upward from 119,000 jobs to 148,000, and the gain in February was revised from 236,000 jobs to 268,000.
Reuters said analysts noted that the federal spending cuts have only begun and will be a more substantial drag on the economy between April and June, when many government workers begin taking days off without pay.