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Slowdown as US jobs growth weakest in more than a year

US employment growth almost stalled in February, with the economy creating only 20,000 jobs, adding to signs of a sharp slowdown in economic activity.

The meagre payroll gains reported by the Labour Department on Friday were the weakest since September 2017, with a big drop in the weather-sensitive construction industry.

They also reflected a decline in hiring by retailers and utility companies as well as the transportation and warehousing sector, which is experiencing a shortage of drivers.

The sharp step-down in payrolls was another blow to President Donald Trump who has suffered a series of setbacks in recent weeks, including, a record goods trade deficit despite his administration’s “America First” policies and the economy missing the White House’s three per cent annual growth target in 2018.

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But the stumble in job growth, which followed two straight months of hefty gains, likely understates the health of the labour market as other details of the closely watched employment report were strong. The unemployment rate fell back to below four per cent and a wider measure of underemployment fell by the most ever.

In addition, annual wage growth was the best since 2009, and the economy created 12,000 more jobs in December and January than previously reported, bringing the total for the two months to 538,000.

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