Job creation slowed precipitously or even reversed industrial sectors across the economy, which gave back some of the gains recorded in February's monster hiring spree.
With revisions for January and February that cut nonfarm payroll employment by 50,000 jobs, monthly employment gains have now averaged 202,000 over the past three months. The unemployment rate had been expected to edge down to 4.0 percent.
The Labor Department said non-farm payroll employment rose by 103,000 jobs in March after spiking by an upwardly revised 326,000 jobs in February.
In March, employment increased for women aged 25 to 54 years while it fell for men in this core population. The number equates to 2.7 percent on an annualized basis. Economists expected average hourly earnings to rise 0.3% over the prior month and 2.7% over the prior year.
U.S. employment growth in March was weaker than market expectations.
However, wage growth picked up in March. The average hourly wage rose 2.7 percent from a year earlier.
The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate remained 4.1 percent, a 17-year low, for a sixth straight month.
That was a slight acceleration from the previous month, but still below the rate of increase when the unemployment rate was last at this level.
The return of cold weather and a shortage of skilled workers weighed on hiring at construction sites in March. Economists do not see an impact on hiring in the near-term from the stock market selloff, which has caused a tightening in financial conditions. Workers unemployed for less than 14 weeks decreased by 118,000, while the number of long-term unemployed, those jobless for 27 weeks or more, fell by 75,000 and accounted for 20.3% of the unemployed. The economy grew at a 2.9 percent pace in the fourth quarter.