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Warning sign: U.S. economy only adds 126,000 jobs

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By Patrick Gillespie

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — March was tough for the U.S. economy.

The U.S. only added 126,000 jobs in March, the lowest since December 2013 and well below the CNNMoney economist survey forecast of 244,000.

The unemployment rate remained the same at 5.5%.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that wage growth stayed sluggish. Average hourly earnings went up only 2.1% over last year. The goal is to see 3.5% — or better — wage growth. To put that another way, Americans made $24.34 an hour a year ago. That only bumped up to $24.86 an hour now.

Lackluster wage growth is a major reason why many Americans still aren’t feeling the economic recovery — and why they aren’t spending much lately.

Warning sign: The March jobs report is disappointing and raises more questions about whether the U.S. economy is slowing.

After gaining momentum in 2014, U.S. economic growth has sputtered in 2015. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta forecasts the economy grew 0% in the first quarter compared to a year ago. That’s right — nothing.

Consumer spending has been close to zero too. The most recent retail sales were negative, and the number of new homes getting built missed expectations.

There’s a puzzling divide in the economy: more and more people are getting jobs, but American consumers and businesses don’t feel confident enough to spend more money. That probably won’t change until wage growth picks up.

What’s next: Everyone from Main Street to the White House to the Federal Reserve will be watching to see if March was just a winter blip in an otherwise improving economy or if it’s a sign of a turning point.

The Federal Reserve is thinking about when to raise interest rates for the first time in about a decade. Interest rates have been near zero — a historic low — since the financial crisis. Many credit the low rates for spurring a surge in the stock market and helping jumpstart the economy.

This latest report may make the Fed more hesitant to raise interest rates in June.

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