WASHINGTON -- Business payrolls were unchanged last month for the first time since 1945.
Stocks sank on the news.
The Labor Department said the unemployment rate was also unchanged at 9.1% in August. The zero growth in payroll employment is a sign that businesses were nervous the economy could be at risk of slipping into another recession.
The employment report was the weakest report in almost a year.
Job gains in June and July were revised lower, to show 57,000 fewer jobs added. The downward revisions were all in government jobs. The average work week also declined and hourly earnings fell by 3 cents to $23.09.
The report may dampen expectations for the economy to pick up in the second half of the year. With hiring stagnant and wages declining, consumers won't see much gain in incomes. That will limit their ability to spend, which undercuts economic growth. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of the economy.
The private sector added 17,000 jobs, fewest since February 2010. That compares with 156,000 in July and 75,000 in June.
Hiring fell across many different sectors. Manufacturers cut 3,000 jobs, its first decline since October 2010. Construction companies, retailers, and transportation firms also cut workers.
The health care industry added 30,000 jobs last month.
Weak growth, a downgrade of long-term U.S. debt in early August and a sell-off on Wall Street likely kept some businesses from hiring.
The economy expanded at an annual pace of only 0.7% in the first six months of the year. That was the slowest six months of growth since the recession officially ended in June 2009.
Most economists forecast that growth may improve to about a 2% annual rate in the July-September quarter. But that's not fast enough to generate many jobs.
The economy's weakness was underscored Thursday by the Obama administration, which estimated that unemployment will average about 9% next year, when President Barack Obama will run for re-election. The rate was 7.8% when Obama took office.
The White House Office of Management and Budget projects overall growth of only 1.7% this year.
Next week, Obama will deliver a rare address to a joint session of Congress to introduce a plan for creating jobs and boosting economic growth.