US employers back off, adding only 126,000 workers in March; jobless rate steady at 5.5 pct.

Energy Associated Press

The weakening U.S. economy spilled into the job market in March as employers added only 126,000 jobs, snapping a streak of 12 consecutive months of job gains above 200,000.

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The Labor Department says the unemployment rate remained at 5.5 percent. Economic growth has been hammered this year by winter weather, factory slowdowns and lackluster construction activity. The manufacturing, construction and government sectors each shed workers, while hiring at restaurants plunged from February.

Job gains in February and January were revised down by 69,000.

Wage growth remains modest. Average hourly wages rose 7 cents to $24.86 an hour in March.

Past job growth along with cheaper gasoline has yet to significantly boost consumer spending. A continued deceleration in hiring could delay the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates mid-year.