U.S. adds a disappointing 20,000 jobs in February

Job creation in the U.S. labor market cooled from a breakneck pace.

The U.S. economy added a sharply lower-than-expected 20,000 non-farm payrolls in February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. Consensus expectations called for 180,000 positions to be added for the month, according to Bloomberg data.

The unemployment rate fell to 3.8%, from 4% in January. Consensus economists expected the rate to have ticked down to 3.9%.

Average hourly earnings in February increased to 0.4% month-over-month and 3.4% year-over-year, higher than the 0.3% month-over-month and 3.3% year-over-year figures economists anticipated.

Friday’s jobs report comes following a previous two readings that came in much stronger-than-expected. Ahead of Friday’s results, many economists predicted a moderation in employment growth as December’s blowout results were sharply downwardly revised and as colder February weather put a chill on hiring in some sectors.

But reports from some private agencies have presaged a softening in some parts of the labor market. An ADP/Moody’s report Wednesday showed that private sector employment rose by 183,000 positions in February, short of estimates by 7,000 (although the previous month’s reading was upwardly revised). And on Thursday, the firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that U.S. employers announced plans to cut 76,835 payrolls in February, an increase of 117% over last year, with retail leading sectors in job cut announcements.

“The job market is hot until it isn’t, and we might well in the coming months be in that transition,” Mark Hamrick, senior economist at Bankrate.com told Yahoo Finance ahead of Friday’s results. “But it’s a little like developing a cold – you get a few sniffles and then eventually you realize you need to lie down.”

This post is being updated.

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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