There were 4,000 fewer jobs in August, marking the first monthly decline in four years, the Labor Department said, confounding analysts who had forecast a moderate gain for the period.
Many financial analysts had said they believed August would show about 110,000 new jobs. Instead, the number dipped for the first time since August 2003.
Manufacturing and construction were two sectors hard hit, losing a combined 68,000 jobs.
The Labor Dept. also revised downward its earlier estimates for July and June, showing a monthly average of 44,000 new jobs through August.
Despite the losses, the unemployment rate for August remained unchanged at 4.6 percent.
At least one expert, global economist Jay Bryson of Wachovia, predicted that at its Sept. 18 meeting, the Federal Reserve would respond to the job losses by cutting interest rates by at least a quarter of a percentage point.