The sputtering U.S. economy created just 126,000 jobs in March as bad weather, weak consumer spending and flailing corporate profits resulted in the worst report since 2012.
Economists expected nonfarm payrolls to rise 245,000 in March, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 5.5 percent, according to Reuters. February's numbers were revised lower to 264,000 from the initially reported 295,000, while January's number fell from 239,000 to 201,000.
The total fell well short of the 269,000 average over the past year and was the first time in 14 months that the number fell below 200,000.
However, the overall unemployment rate held steady at 5.5 percent, as a generational low in labor force participation helps keep the figure low. A separate gauge that includes those who have stopped looking for work as well those employed part-time for economic reasons—the underemployed—edged lower from 11 percent to 10.9 percent.
The jobs numbers come as both the economy and corporate profits have been weakening substantially.
In its most recently estimate, the Federal Reserve's Atlanta branch is projecting the U.S. economy to show no growth in the first quarter. At the same time, corporate profits are expected to drop about 3 percent for the period and another 2 percent or so in the second quarter, according to S&P Capital IQ.
The conflicting signals have put the Fed in a quandary: Central bank officials have been indicating a desire to raise short-term interest rates this year as the jobs market improves, but must contend with other parts of the economy that aren't as strong.
Despite the weak headline numbers, there were some signs of wage pressures. Average hourly earnings rose 7 cents an hour to $24.86, representing a 2.1 percent rise that gets closer to the Fed's target. The average work week, though, declined one-tenth to 34.5 hours.
Full-time positions rose 190,000, while those working part-time declined 170,000.
This article originally appeared CNBC.com.