US employment growth registered a surprise sharp slowdown in May, with only 54,000 net new jobs added.
Markets had expected a rise of 150,000. It follows a downwardly revised but still rapid 232,000 increase in April.
Despite the slowdown, it was the eighth month in a row of positive employment growth, according to data from the US Labor Department.
The unemployment rate also rose unexpectedly to 9.1%, from 9% a month earlier.
Last month, unemployment had also risen faster than expected, up from 8.8% in March.
The private sector created 83,000 new jobs in the month, while local governments reduced their headcount for the the 22nd month in a row, by an unusually large 28,000.
"Job gains continued in professional and business services, health care, and mining," said the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The figures mirror similarly disappointing US economic data released in the last week, including an apparent slowdown in the manufacturing sector.
Total employment in the US still remains nearly 5% below the pre-recession peak it registered nearly three-and-a-half years ago, in what has been the worst jobs recession since World War II.