Unemployment Falls, but Feeble Job Growth Tempers Optimism

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After two months of stellar job creation that convinced administration officials that President Trump’s policies were paying off immediately, employers pulled back sharply on hiring in March.

The economy added 98,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported Friday, fewer than half the monthly number for January and February.

The report contained some notable good news: The unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent, the lowest level in almost a decade and a milestone in the long road back from the Great Recession. The rate was 4.7 percent in February. Wages also continued to rise.

But the disappointing number of new jobs was jarring for the administration, and well below what economists had expected. It comes as the stock market surge, which followed the November election, subsides and amid signs that economic growth in the year’s first quarter proves weak.

Economic perceptions, as well, may not be playing out in reality. Sentiment among consumers and businesses rose after Mr. Trump’s election, but so far, it has not been matched by a comparable increase in spending by either group.

“We’ve given up on waiting for hard data to improve,” said Rob Martin, an economist at Barclays. “It’s been five months since confidence increased. If consumption were going to improve, it would have already.”

Industries that Mr. Trump emphasized in his campaign — particularly manufacturing — continued to add jobs last month, but at a slower pace. Payrolls in the retail sector, meanwhile, declined further, shedding tens of thousands of jobs.

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