The unemployment rate dropped sharply last month to 9 percent, the lowest level in nearly two years. But the economy generated only 36,000 net new jobs, the fewest in four months.
The January report illustrates how job growth remains the economy's weakest spot, even as other economic indicators point to a recovery that is strengthening.
Friday's report offered a conflicting picture on hiring. Unemployment fell because the Labor Department's household survey determined that more than a half-million people without jobs found work. The department conducts a separate survey of businesses, which showed tepid job creation. The two surveys sometimes diverge.
Severe winter weather likely reduced the number of jobs created. Harsh snowstorms last month cut into construction employment, which fell by 32,000, the most since May. Transportation and warehousing also fell by 38,000 - the most in a year.
In one bright spot, manufacturing added 49,000 jobs, the most since August 1998. And retailers added 28,000 jobs, the largest number in a year.