The economy added just 75,000 jobs in May, amid ongoing trade tensions with China and Mexico and a global economic slowdown.
The unemployment rate stayed steady at 3.6 percent, the lowest level in almost 50 years. Annual wage growth ticked up by 3.1 percent, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. April's job number was revised down from 263,000 to 224,000 positions added.
The government's monthly employment snapshot was hotly anticipated after a private payroll report released on Wednesday also took Wall Street by surprise. ADP's monthly report revealed that just 27,000 jobs were added to the private sector in May — the lowest since 2010.
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Wall Street ticked slightly downward, then upward, in premarket trading after the disappointing Labor Department figures were released. Financial markets have been nervous lately over escalating trade tensions with China and Mexico.
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"Fears were realized with the release of the government’s May jobs report," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate. "Hiring was lackluster last month, while the jobs numbers for March and April were weaker than initially estimated."
"This was just enough hiring to maintain stability for the job market," he said.
Friday's labor report is likely to cement market expectations that the Fed is preparing to cut interest rates — with some predicting that may happen as soon as June 18 when the Federal Open Market Committee next meets to discuss monetary policymaking.
President Donald Trump said Thursday "the stock market would be 10,000 points higher" if the Fed had not raised rates four times last year.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Monday that the central bank is watching current economic developments and would take the necessary steps to continue the country's near-record economic expansion.