The U.S. jobless rate edged lower in April, but the government said Friday that job growth in the world's largest economy was modest.
The Labor Department said the unemployment rate fell a tenth of a percentage point from March to 8.1 percent last month. But for the second straight month, more workers left the labor market and thus were not counted in the U.S. employment survey.
At the same time, employers added another 115,000 workers to their payrolls last month, but that was well below the 160,000 figure that economists had predicted. The April figure also fell below the 154,000 jobs added in March and signaled that corporations have markedly slowed their hiring. The American economy had added more than 250,000 jobs a month early in the year.
The state of the U.S. economy has emerged as the dominant issue in the country's presidential election campaign, heading to the vote in November.
The Republican challenger, one-time venture capitalist Mitt Romney, called the latest employment report "terrible and very disappointing." He said U.S. economic fortunes "seem to be slowing down, not speeding up. This is not progress."
One government economic adviser, Alan Krueger, said the jobs report showed that the economy "is continuing to heal," but that "much remains to be done." He noted that hiring in the first three months of the year was the biggest quarterly total in six years.
U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is running for another four-year term. While he remains personally popular, many voters have questioned his oversight of the nation's economy. Earlier in the year, he touted the labor market's robust job growth.
But now analysts say the U.S. could be headed to a third straight year in which the early promise of economic advances tailed off in the ensuing months.
The U.S. has recovered only slowly from its deep recession in 2008 and 2009, its worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The country's economic indicators regularly show mixed signs of improvement followed by retreats, especially with employment and overall economic growth.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.