The U.S. economy added 96,000 jobs last month -- fewer than investors expected and less than the number needed to provide jobs for a growing workforce.

Friday's closely-watched report from the Labor Department also showed the unemployment rate stayed steady at 5.4 percent.

Experts say high oil prices and a series of hurricanes both hurt job growth.

This is the last government employment report voters will see before they go to the polls to choose between Republican President Bush or Democratic Challenger John Kerry.

The report shows U.S. employment has been recovering in recent months. But the increase still leaves a net loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs since President Bush took office.