US adds 120,000 jobs in March, lower than predicted
The US economy added 120,000 jobs during March, lower than estimates suggested, while the unemployment rate fell slightly to 8.2%.
Analysts had predicted a fourth straight month with job growth of more than 200,000.
President Barack Obama's electoral prospects are widely seen as linked to the economy and the jobs market.
Employment has been rising for the past six months, but the jobless rate has been stuck above 8% since early 2009.
The Department of Labor's data shows the smallest growth in employment since October 2011.'Weak and troubling'
Manufacturing, the food and beverage industry and healthcare showed gains in March, but retail was down.
Analysts say the slow-down in March hiring comes as the US emerges from an unseasonably mild winter that spurred job numbers.
Many experts had expected that the unemployment rate would hold at 8.3%.
These figures are a jolt to what had been the prevailing sense of a steady recovery in the job market. The president will say it confirms what he has repeated for months: that there will be bumps on the road, and that there is no room for complacency.
Privately, his advisers will be poring over the data, hoping these preliminary figures are wrong, or simply a blip in an otherwise positive trend. For their part, Republicans will ram home their campaign message that the biggest brake on recovery is Barack Obama.
The underwhelming numbers will give businesses and investors pause for thought, perhaps causing them to delay plans for expansion and new hirings. That will affect the rest of the world, because a strong America remains the key to a global recovery.
But joblessness dropped by one-tenth of a percent as the number of people actively looking for work went down.
The participation rate, which measures the proportion of the working-age population making up the labour force, ticked down slightly to 63.8% in March from 63.9% the month before.
In response to the figures, the White House said that there was "more work to be done". But it said the report provided "further evidence that the economy is continuing to recover".
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney called the report "weak and very troubling", adding that it was increasingly clear that "the Obama economy is not working".
The US saw two consecutive months of robust jobs growth in January and February, with increases of well over 200,000 jobs in both months.
The BBC's Caroline Hepker says that while US companies have hired 850,000 new workers since December - the best run in two years - the sustainability of the recovery still remains a concern.
But Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, has recently warned that the pace of growth seen in recent months would need sustained consumer spending in order to continue.
Mr Bernanke has not ruled out the possibility of using monetary policy to support the economy if unemployment remains high.
The employment figures come as several stock markets around the world are closed for Good Friday.
But US stock futures declined after publication of the report.