US job creation picks up slightly; jobless rate ticks down

The U.S. economy's job creation engine accelerated less than expected in August, raising a question mark over whether the Federal Reserve may ease off on the stimulus gas pedal soon.

The Labor Department reported Friday that U.S. employers added 169,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate ticked lower to 7.3 percent, a 4-1/2 year low, from 7.4 percent in July.

Economists had been expecting job expansion of about 170,000 to 200,000. 

Not only was hiring less than expected last month, the job count for June and July was revised to show 74,000 fewer positions added than previously reported. In addition, the participation rate - the share of working-age Americans who either have a job or are looking for one - dropped to its lowest level since August 1978.

The quality of jobs fell short too. Many of the jobs created last month were in retail, including clothing stores, restaurants, general merchandise and electronics stores. 

Traditionally better-paying manufacturing jobs rose, but only slightly, after declining in July.

The financial world was eyeing the data carefully for clues about when the Fed would begin pulling back from purchasing $85 billion a month in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to help keep interest rates low and boost economic growth.

Friday's news that jobs growth missed the target seemed likely to help lift markets. In pre-market trading, futures added to gains, pointing to a higher opening.

Reuters contributed to this report.