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WASHINGTON DC -- The US unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent in April as the economy created a disappointing 115,000 jobs, official figures showed Friday, the eve of President Barack Obama's maiden reelection rally.
Labor Department data showed a marked slowdown in job creation, although unemployment fell to the lowest level since Obama took office in January 2009.
But the report will do little to sweeten sentiment about the health of the economy, which has been beset by pitfalls.
Confidence has become a shaky plank of the recovery from the 2008-09 recession, hit by earthquakes, fiscal crises, revolutions and infuriatingly mixed data.
Chris Williamson, chief economist for Markit, described the report as "a further big disappointment."
He warned there were some signs that "the unemployment rate could well start to rising again in coming months."
Economists zeroed in on some troubling details in the report.
The drop in unemployment was in large part due to workers dropping out of the jobs market.
Participation fell to the lowest rate in thirty years. Consequently the number of unemployed fell by 200,000 to 12.5 million.
"The negatives clearly outweigh the positives in today's report," said Jeffrey Greenberg, an economist with Nomura Securities.
"The decline in the unemployment rate was largely a participation story."
But few economists believed the report was bad enough to prompt the Federal Reserve to step in with more stimulus.
On a brighter note, the Labor Department revised its March jobs figures up by 34,000 to 154,000, causing some to predict a May boom as gas price pressures eased.
Wall Street had expected April unemployment to be stuck at 8.2 percent, with the economy creating 162,000 jobs during the month.
The report will be more keenly parsed by the White House than usual.
On Saturday Obama will visit Ohio and Virginia to begin to make his case for re-election.
Half of all voters say the economy is the single biggest issue in this November's election.
Since Obama took office in January 2009, the unemployment rate has arched from 7.8 percent at inauguration to 10 percent as the impact of the financial crisis spread, and back down to 8.1 percent today.
Obama's fate could turn on whether he can convince voters that his policies avoided another Great Depression and that his rival would return to policies that failed in the past.
Alan Kreuger, Obama chief White House economic advisor, said the figures were positive, but showed there was more work ahead.
"Today's employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but much more remains to be done to repair the damage caused by the financial crisis and the deep recession."
His Republican foes were quick to pounce on the data as evidence of economic mismanagement.
"President Obama has broken countless promises during his time in office -- but none more important than his promise to help create jobs and get our economy moving again," said Andrea Saul, a spokesperson for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
"President Obama's rhetoric simply doesn't match with his failed economic record."
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