(CN) – The U.S. economy gained just 20,000 jobs last month, marking the lowest monthly increase in over a year, while unemployment dropped slightly and wages grew faster.
Friday’s announcement falls well below analyst predictions of about 185,000 new jobs, which has been the average over the last three months.
The weak gain in February, which marks the smallest increase in 17 months, stands in stark contrast to the robust 311,000 jobs added the month before.
The low number could be a sign of an economic slowdown after nearly 10 years of expansion, the longest streak on record, as a trade war between the U.S. and China has spurred fears of a slowing global economy.
It could also be attributed to unseasonably cold weather in many parts of the country, and the 35-day partial government shutdown that ended in January could have affected the calculation of new jobs.
The biggest drop in hiring was seen in the construction industry, which lost 31,000 jobs. Retail and shipping companies also cut jobs, while professional firms and health care providers created new jobs.
The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell from 4 percent to 3.8 percent and the annual growth in wages ticked up to 3.4 percent, the biggest gain since 2009, according to a Labor Department report.
February’s modest job growth is in line with the Federal Reserve’s pledge to be “patient” with raising interest rates this year.
Still, many analysts predict job growth to rebound heading into the summer months.