The U.S. unemployment rate held steady at five percent in April, while the economy had a net gain of 160,000 jobs.

Friday's Labor Department report was weaker than most economists had predicted.

Business services, health care, construction, and financial activities gained jobs, while employment declined in retail and in mining.

President Barack Obama says the economy has been gaining jobs continuously for more than six years. He told journalists that wages and employment are up and unemployment has fallen. He said more needs to be done, and called on the Republican-led Congress to pass proposals for a higher minimum wage, and more spending on infrastructure such as bridges and water mains.   

PNC Bank chief economist Stuart Hoffman says the lower-than-expected job gains mean the U.S. central bank is not likely to raise interest rates soon. Interest rates were slashed during the financial crisis to bolster economic growth.  

Hoffman said one bright spot in the Labor Department report was a rise in average hourly wages of three-tenths of one percent.

The data also showed the U.S. labor force declined by two-tenths of one percent, to 62.8 percent, reversing a series of gains over the past three months. Economist Aparna Mathur of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said this was a disappointing development.

The government reports monthly figures on "labor force participation," which represents the number of all American workers over the age of 16, whether employed or unemployed but looking for a job. It is reported as a percentage of the nation's population.