According to official figures, the US economy added 113,000 jobs in January, weaker than expected for a second consecutive month.
Economists had predicted an increase of about 180,000 new jobs last month.
However, the unemployment rate fell to 6.6%, the lowest level since October 2008, as more people began looking for work.
The US economy added 113,000 jobs in January, weaker than expected for a second consecutive month
The jobless figures will raise concern that, after a strong second half of 2013, growth in the US economy is beginning to lose its steam.
Earlier this week an unexpectedly weak manufacturing report raised concerns about the strength of the US economy and sent the Dow Jones tumbling by 326 points.
December’s surprisingly weak figure was revised up only modestly to 75,000, from 74,000.
The construction industry, most vulnerable to the impact of bad weather, added 48,000 in January indicating that while the weather may been responsible for December’s weak figures, it does not appear to have been a factor in January.
The US Labor Department has announced the unemployment rate fell to a five-year low of 7% in November.
Payroll figures also showed that 203,000 jobs were created last month, more than predicted, as the US economy displayed more signs of strength.
The monthly non-farm payroll figure is watched closely by economists.
Analysts say these indications of strong growth could mean that the Federal Reserve will start to unwind its massive stimulus programme soon.
However, the November figure might have been distorted. Some federal workers who were counted as jobless in the October – because of the 16-day partial government shutdown – returned to their jobs last month.
The latest data also showed that the October and September non-farm payroll figures, which had also been strong, were even better than their first estimates.
The US unemployment rate fell to a five-year low in November
Job gains for those two months were revised upwards by 8,000.
Chris Williamson, chief economist at research firm Markit, said the data indicated the US labor market was “buoyant”.
“The decline pushes the jobless rate down to its lowest since November 2008 and closer towards the Fed’s threshold of 6.5%, which it wants to see breached before it considers tightening policy via higher interest rates,” he said.
But he added that a decision on when the Fed might start to taper its stimulus programme was still not clear cut.
The labor market figures follow news earlier this week that economic growth, as measured by GDP, in the third quarter of the year was revised up to an annual pace of 3.6% from a previous estimate of 2.8%.
Also on Friday, the US Commerce Department said that consumer spending increased in October, though wages and salaries were barely changed.
According to the latest figures from the Labor Department, the US economy added a better-than-expected 204,000 jobs in October.
There had been fears that the 16-day shutdown of government services last month could have hit jobs growth.
The monthly non-farm payroll figure is taken as a key indicator of the health of the world’s biggest economy.
However, the latest figures also showed that the unemployment rate edged up to 7.3% from 7.2% in September.
The Labor Department said that this was likely to be because many federal workers were counted as unemployed during the shutdown.
The report also said that employers added 60,000 more jobs in September and August than earlier estimates had suggested.
The US economy added a better-than-expected 204,000 jobs in October 2013
The latest figures add to a positive week for US economic data.
On Thursday, it was announced that the US economy grew at a better-than-expected annual pace of 2.8% in the third quarter.
Investors are watching closely the health of the US economy, with signs of growing strength likely to raise expectations that the US Federal Reserve will begin to scale back its massive economic stimulus programme.
Chris Williamson, chief economist at the researchers Markit, said that the jobs figure had “defied” expectations of a slump in jobs creation due to the shutdown.
“Analysts were expecting a mere 125,000 rise,” he said.
“The data will add to the view that the Federal Reserve is gearing towards a tapering of its asset purchases, but policymakers will most likely wait for clearer signs that the economy is capable of growing at a faster rate than seen in recent months, hoping to see a pace of economic growth that will eat into unemployment.”
In Thursday’s GDP figure, the Commerce Department said that growth had been lifted by rising exports and a pick-up in construction of homes.
However, it also said that the pace of growth in consumer spending – which accounts for about two-thirds of US economic activity – had slowed from the previous quarter.
Chris Williamson said: “The jobs report follows yesterday’s GDP numbers, and together the data suggest that the US economy continues to expand at a reasonable pace, but that the underlying rate of expansion has cooled since earlier in the year, when policymakers began talking in earnest about scaling back monetary stimulus.”
According to latest official figures, the US economy added 148,000 jobs in September, lower than analysts had predicted.
The unemployment rate fell to 7.2%, down from 7.3% in August, the US Department of Labor said.
The release of the figures was delayed by the partial shutdown of the US government earlier this month.
Economists had predicted 180,000 job gains for September, and the lower-than-expected figure could raise fears the US economy is losing momentum.
The US economy added only 148,000 jobs in September, lower than analysts had predicted
Employment in professional and business services grew at the fastest pace with 32,000 new jobs added. Leisure and hospitality was the only sector to see a fall with 13,000 jobs lost.
Following the figures, stock markets turned higher, with the FTSE 100 up 0.5% at 6,688 and both the Dow futures and broader S&P index futures up 0.3%, as investors bet on the Fed continuing its stimulus programme at the same pace.
The dollar fell, under pressure from the expectation that the stimulus programme, which effectively creates more dollars, will continue at the same rate.
The US central bank, the Federal Reserve, maintained its economic stimulus programme last month, suggesting it was still uncertain about the strength of the economic recovery.
The Labor Department said the next US unemployment data would be released on November 8, a week later than scheduled due to the partial shutdown of the US government.
Its workers were placed on unpaid leave during the shutdown raising fears the department will struggle to collect accurate data for October.
The seasonally-adjusted rate for April 2013 was 12.2%, up from 12.1% the month before.
An extra 95,000 people were out of work in the 17 countries that use the euro, taking the total to 19.38 million.
Both Greece and Spain have jobless rates above 25%. The lowest unemployment rate is in Austria at 4.9%.
The European Commission’s statistics office, Eurostat, said Germany had an unemployment rate of 5.4% while Luxembourg’s was 5.6%.
The highest jobless rates are in Greece (27.0% in February 2013), Spain (26.8%) and Portugal (17.8%).
In France, Europe’s second largest economy, the number of jobless people rose to a new record high in April.
“We do not see a stabilization in unemployment before the middle of next year,” said Frederik Ducrozet, an economist at Credit Agricole in Paris.
“The picture in France is still deteriorating.”
Eurozone unemployment rate has reached another record high in April 2013
Youth unemployment remains a particular concern. In April, 3.6 million people under the age of 25 were out of work in the eurozone, which translated to an unemployment rate of 24.4%.
Figures from the Italian government showed 40.5% of young people in Italy are unemployed.
“We have to deal with the social crisis, which is expressed particularly in spreading youth unemployment, and place it at the centre of political action,” said Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano.
In the 12 months to April, 1.6 million people lost their jobs in the eurozone.
While the jobless figure in the eurozone climbed for the 24th consecutive month, the unemployment rate for the full 27-member European Union remained at 11%.
The eurozone is in its longest recession since it was created in 1999. At 1.4%, inflation is far below the 2% target set by the European Central Bank (ECB).
Consumer spending remains subdued. Figures released on Friday showed that retail sales in Germany fell 0.4% in April compared with the previous month.
Earlier this week, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicted that the eurozone economy would contract by 0.6% this year.
According to Carsten Brzeski, an economist at ING, in the past, the eurozone has needed economic growth of about 1.5% to create jobs.
Some consider that the ECB needs to do more than simply cutting interest rates to boost economic activity and create jobs.
Earlier this month, the ECB lowered its benchmark interest rate to 0.50% from 0.75%, the first cut in 10 months, and said it was “ready to act if needed” if more measures were required to boost the eurozone’s economic health.
In its report earlier this week, the OECD hinted that the ECB might want to expand quantitative easing (QE) as a measure to encourage stronger growth.
The European Central Bank is due to meet next week.
France has entered its second recession in four years after the economy shrank by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2013, according to official figures.
The country’s economy shrank by the same amount in the last quarter of 2012. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth.
France has record unemployment and low business and consumer confidence.
German figures, also released, showed its economy, the eurozone’s strongest, grew by just 0.1% in Q1 2013.
France entered its worst recession since World War II in 2009. Although it was thought to have been in recession in 2012, these figures have now been revised to show only one quarter of negative growth.
The news comes on the first anniversary of Francois Hollande being sworn in as president.
Earlier this month, the European Commission warned that France would enter recession this year and said the eurozone’s economy would shrink by 0.4%.
France has entered its second recession in four years after the economy shrank by 0.2 percent in Q1 2013
The European Central Bank (ECB) cut interest rates at its last meeting to a record low of 0.5% in an attempt to stimulate growth.
In France, the rate of unemployment is running at 10.6% and is forecast to rise further next year.
Its deficit is also expected to rise sharply, the commission says, to 3.9% of GDP – well above the EU deficit target of 3%.
But French unemployment is below the eurozone average, which was 11.4% in 2012 and is expected to hit an average of 12.2% this year. In both Greece and Spain, it is expected to peak at 27%.
France this week passed a range of measures aimed at stopping the rise in unemployment by reforming the country’s labor laws.
These include measures to make it easier for workers to change jobs and for companies to fire employees.
The French economy has performed better than other eurozone members, including Spain and Italy, but it has not moved as quickly to reform its economy.
One of the new bill’s main measures is to allow companies to cut workers’ salaries or hours temporarily during times of sluggish economic performance, something that is common in Germany.
The figure for German growth, the largest and still the strongest economy in the 17-strong eurozone, was far weaker than expected. Economists had expected to see growth of 0.3% in the first quarter.
Annual figures from the Statistics Office also show the German economy has shrunk by 1.4% when compared with a year ago.
But in a statement it said this was partly due to severe winter weather: “The German economy is only slowly picking up steam. The extreme winter weather played a role in this weak growth.”