Updated at 4:46 p.m. ET
Hiring slowed sharply last month, as U.S. employers added just 75,000 jobs. The unemployment rate held steady at 3.6 percent.
The monthly snapshot from the Labor Department suggests businesses are increasingly cautious in the face of the Trump administration's ongoing trade wars.
The employment gains in May were well below economists' forecasts of 185,000 jobs and the three-month average of 151,000 jobs. Job gains for March and April were also revised downwards by a total of 75,000.
The weak jobs number could increase the odds that the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates sooner rather than later.
"This is not the Fed capitulating to financial markets or capitulating to a president," said chief economist Diane Swonk of Grant Thornton. "It is them reacting to an economy that is now weakening. Some of it's self-inflicted. But nonetheless, they have to deal with it."
Prospects for a rapid rate cut propelled another rally on Wall Street Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index each rose more than 1 percent.
Manufacturing continues to be a soft spot, with just 3,000 factory jobs added in May. An index of manufacturing activity released Monday fell to its lowest level in 2 1/2 years.
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