U.S. companies slowed their hiring last month to the lowest level in more than five years, while the unemployment rate declined to 4.7 percent.

Many economists called Friday's unemployment report disappointing and said it is now unlikely the U.S. central bank will raise the key interest rate later this month.

Labor Department data show the economy had a net gain of just 38,000 jobs in May, far fewer than most experts had predicted. The unemployment rate declined three-tenths of one percent to 4.7 percent — the lowest since 2007. However, the report says much of that decline was due to hundreds of thousands of discouraged jobless people giving up their search for work, which means those people are no longer officially counted as unemployed.

The head of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, said the jobs report should be seen in the context of other data showing improvements in consumer spending and sales of cars and homes, and rising wages, as well as strong job growth over the past few years. 

The head of Global Economics at the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Ethan Harris, said that "by most measures" the United States is at "full employment." Nevertheless, he said in a VOA interview, there is a widespread perception that the economy is in trouble.

Valerie Rainey of the American Institute of CPAs (certified public accountants) said the group has just surveyed its members, who play key roles in running companies across the nation. In a VOA interview via Skype, she said these business executives have a generally positive outlook about the U.S. economy, and a growing number plan to hire more workers this year.

Republican Donald Trump, who is almost certain to win his party's presidential nomination at its national convention next month, said on Twitter that the "terrible" data would be seen as "a bombshell."

Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Bank, said the job figures were "very weak and disappointing," and predicted the report would be "a roadblock" to raising interest rates at the Federal Reserve's mid-June meeting. 

Interest rates set by the U.S. central bank were slashed to record lows to bolster economic growth during the global financial crisis. They were adjusted slightly upward late last year, but remain at unusually low levels. Since the American economy has now recovered much of the ground lost during the recession, Fed officials are debating how soon, and by how much, they should raise interest rates further.

Move them up too soon, and the economy could fall back into recession. Wait too long, and there is a risk that inflation could ignite and damage the economy.