Job Growth Lower Than Expected

U.S. employers added 21,000 workers to their payrolls last month, far fewer than expected, according to a government report on Friday.

In its report, the Labor Department (search) said private-sector employment was unchanged in February, while the government added 21,000 workers.

The report also showed job creation in November and December was weaker than previously thought, adding to the weak tone of the report. The department revised lower its count of jobs gains in December to 97,000 from 112,000 and for November to just 8,000 from 16,000.

February's unemployment rate held steady at 5.6 percent.

Economists at top Wall Street firms had forecast a February payrolls gain (search) of 125,000 new jobs.

Over the last three months, employment has risen an average of just 42,000 per month, down from the 79,000 average of the prior three months and far short of the 150,000 or so jobs needed each month just to keep pace with growth in the labor force.

Employment in construction tumbled by 24,000, while the factory sector shed 3,000 workers, the 43rd consecutive monthly drop.

The service sector also proved surprisingly weak, creating only 46,000 new positions.

Democrats have hit President Bush hard for presiding over the weakest period of jobs creation for any president since Herbert Hoover (search) during the Great Depression.