The U.S. unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent in February. Fewer jobs were lost than many economists had feared, but the statistics show that many companies don't have enough faith in an economic recovery to start hiring now.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the economy lost 36,000 more jobs last month than it created. Many analysts see it as good news, because the expectation was for a loss double that figure.
That expectation was largely based on two recent blizzards that shut down many businesses in the Philadelphia and Washington areas. But the bureau says it's not clear how much the storms affected unemployment, because many of the people who couldn't get to work are still counted as employed.
Still, the latest figures interrupt a trend of gradual improvement in recent months. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says a total of 14.9 million Americans are still out of work.
"The U.S. economy may be in a recovery mode, but the labor market is still doing poorly," said John Lonski, an analyst at Moody's Investors service.
But officials remain optimistic. In a speech just before the latest job figures were released, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Charles Evans, said employment is often the last thing to recover in a recession. Many businesses slash payrolls, he said, and try to keep a lean staff even as output levels begin to recover.
"But I think many businesses already are finding that they can take lean production only so far," he added.
At a recent jobs fair in New York, many people clung to the hope of finding a job soon. Banker David Gereb lost his job three months ago.
"Depending who you listen to - some people say it's getting worse, some say it's getting better, just cross my fingers that I get a job soon," Gereb said.
The United States is enduring the worst rise in unemployment of any economic slowdown since World War II. More than 8.5 million jobs have been lost since the recession began a little over two years ago.