Employers hired only 54,000 new workers in May, the fewest in eight months, and the unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent.
The Labor Department report offered startling evidence that the U.S. economy is slowing, hampered by high gas prices and natural disasters in Japan that have hurt U.S. manufacturers.
The pace of hiring has slowed sharply from the previous three months, when the economy added an average of 220,000 new jobs. Private companies hired only 83,000 new workers in May -- the fewest in nearly a year.
Local governments cut 28,000 jobs last month, the most since November. They have cut jobs for 22 straight month.
More people entered the work force last month. That pushed the unemployment rate up from 9.0 percent in April.