WASHINGTON - US payrolls rose far less than expected in March, keeping the door open for further monetary policy support from the Federal Reserve, even as the unemployment rate fell to a three-year low of 8.2 percent.
Employers added 120,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on Friday, the smallest increase since October.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected nonfarm employment to increase 203,000 and the jobless rate to hold at 8.3 percent.
The slowdown in employment growth last month likely reflected the fading boost from unseasonably warm winter weather. It supported the caution on the labor market from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last week.
Bernanke expressed doubts the recent job gains could be sustained, and March's weak report was in line with expectations that economic growth slowed to an annual pace of 2 percent in the first quarter from the 3 percent rate in the October-December period.