WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers pulled back on hiring in April, adding 160,000 jobs, the fewest in seven months after a streak of robust monthly gains.
The unemployment rate remained at a low of 5 percent, roughly where it has been since the fall.
The employment gain was down from the average increase of 200,000 over the past three months. But it is still enough, over time, to reduce the unemployment rate.
The slowdown might raise some concerns that weak U.S. economic growth has discouraged some employers from hiring. The economy's growth has slumped to a sluggish 1 percent annual rate since October.
Still, wage gains showed signs of picking up. Average hourly pay rose 2.5 percent in April from a year earlier, above the sluggish 2 percent annual pace that has been typical for the past six years.
The proportion of adults either working or searching for work fell last month after four months of gains. Those increases were a positive sign because they suggested that many Americans were resuming job hunts amid signs of stronger hiring.
Weak growth in the United States and overseas has led to volatility in financial markets and complicated the Federal Reserve's plans to gradually raise interest rates.
Fed policymakers have signaled that they could raise rates twice this year. But slower hiring, if sustained, could disrupt those plans.
"By adding to signs that economic weakness is lingering into the second quarter, these disappointing numbers greatly reduce the likelihood of the Fed hiking rates this side of the presidential election," Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, wrote in a research note.
Hiring in March and February, meanwhile, was revised lower by a combined 19,000, though remained healthy at 233,000 and 208,000, respectively.
April's tepid hiring gain might not signal a sustained pullback. Job growth slumped as recently as January only to snap back in the following months.
Last month, job growth fell sharply in retail, construction and government, and remained weak in manufacturing. Retailers shed 3,100 jobs, down from an average gain of 52,500 in the first three months of the year. Construction hiring slipped to 1,000 from an average of 24,000, and government shed 11,000 after adding an average of 16,000 in the first quarter.
Unseasonably cool weather in the Northeast may have delayed shopping for summer clothes, causing stores to cut workers.
Manufacturing added a slight 4,000 jobs, after two months of cutbacks.
Job gains in higher-paid industries, such as management consulting and computer systems, picked up from March.
Hiring in education and health care remained steady, climbing 54,000 last month, above its three-month average of 49,000.
Growth has sagged in the past six months as slower economies overseas and a stronger dollar cut into U.S. exports of factory goods. Low oil and gas prices have also caused energy companies to sharply curtail the construction of new rigs, lowering overall business spending.
Consumers have also been cautious, boosting their savings from lower gas prices and increased hiring, rather than spending.
Still, there are some signs the economy could be improving. Auto sales picked up in March, suggesting that Americans are still willing to make large purchases.
And a private survey found that services firms, which include retailers and restaurants as well as professional services such as engineering, expanded in April at the fastest pace this year.
The U.S. job market is still outperforming many of its counterparts overseas. The unemployment rate in the 19 European nations that share the euro currency is more than double the U.S. rate, at 10.3 percent. Some of those countries are doing better, however: Unemployment rates in Germany and the Czech Republic are both below the U.S. rate.
Japan's economy contracted in the final quarter of last year, though its unemployment rate is also below the United States'.
China's economy, meanwhile, grew 6.9 percent last year, the slowest pace in a quarter-century. But it expanded by 6.7 percent from a year ago in the first quarter, leading some analyst to forecast that it may be leveling-off.