U.S. employers added 142,000 jobs in August as payroll growth moderated significantly after six months of solid gains, the Labor Department said Friday.
Last month's disappointing total breaks a string of six straight months of 200,000-plus gains.
The unemployment rate fell to 6.1% from 6.2% in July, the Labor Department said.
Economists' median forecast in Action Economics' survey was that 220,000 jobs were added last month. Monthly job growth has averaged well over 200,000 this year, up from 194,000 in 2013, despite harsh winter weather that slowed the economy in the first quarter.
In August, businesses added 134,000 jobs. Federal, state and local governments added 8,000.
Job gains for June and July were revised down by a total 28,000. June's was revised to 267,000 from 298,000 and July's to 212,000 from 209,000.
While the August tally was disappointing, it could get revised upward in future months' reports. High Frequency Economics cautioned that in previous years, the August job totals initially reported routinely were below expectations but estimates were raised later.
Several recent labor market indicators have pointed to continued strong job gains. Private payroll processor ADP this week said businesses added 204,000 jobs last month. Initial jobless claims, which reflect layoffs, have fallen to prerecession levels. And a survey of the service sector, which makes up 80% of the economy, showed growing employment in August for the sixth straight month.
Job openings, however, have outpaced hiring, with many employers struggling to find skilled workers in industries such as technology, energy and manufacturing.
And economists are awaiting faster wage gains that can drive consumer spending and sustained economic growth. Annual wage increases have been stuck at around 2% throughout the five-year-old recovery.