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The jobs numbers for February came in at a startlingly low number of only 20,000 jobs added, well below the 180,000 jobs many economists had expected.

Professional and business services added 42,000 jobs, while health care grew by 21,000.

Home sales fell last year and price gains are slowing after the average rate on a 30-year mortgage reached almost 5 percent last year.

"All this report did was remind people that the economy is decelerating and a moderating economy doesn't create a massive number of new positions", said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania.

Even with the pickup in wages, Federal Reserve policy makers have indicated this year they won't raise interest rates again until seeing inflation advance. Retail jobs fell by 6,100, while education and health services rose only 4,000 and leisure and hospitality payrolls were unchanged. From 2009 to 2018, the state's economy added a total of more than 1.16 million private sector jobs.

All told, Friday's monthly employment report from the government pointed to a still-sturdy job market and economy. The drop in the unemployment rate partially reflected the return to work of federal employees who had been furloughed during the partial government shutdown, the Labor Department said.

US stocks fell when trading opened, continuing a weeklong slide.

February jobs report—What to know in markets Friday
America Created Just 20,000 Jobs in February

The gains are also starting to show up in some lower-skilled jobs.

Despite the weakest gain in 17 months, average hourly earnings increased by 3.4 percent.

At the same time, policymakers and economists might wait for several months of weak hiring before concluding there's cause for concern in the labor market.

That said, I expect a strong gain in payrolls of 190,000 and expect to see the unemployment decline to 3.8 percent. Average hourly earnings rose more strongly than in January, at 0.4 percent month-over-month and 3.4 percent year-over-year.

That was the fewest jobs gained in a month since September 2017.

Julia Pollak, a labor economist at jobs marketplace ZipRecruiter, said many companies are becoming increasingly hungry for workers. The employment-population ratio, at 60.7%, was unchanged over the month but was up by 0.3 percentage point over the year.

Another 500 jobs were lost in trade, transportation and utility and financial activities fell by 300 jobs. Government payrolls dropped by 5,000 jobs last month, pulled down by declines both local and state government education.