The White House issued its monthly response to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' employment situation with a written statement from Alan Krueger, chairman of Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, who refrained from a cheerful response. Krueger's predecessor, Austan Goolsbee, on CNBC called the report a punch to the gut.

In 2012, an election year, Democrats outside the White House found ways to remain optimistic about soft employment reports as the economy remained a critical campaign issue across most states and Congressional districts. Members of the president's party didn't hesitate to admit Friday's report was rough, but they did shift blame to the sequester cuts.

"I don't think there's any question, rather, there's a connection between this anemic jobs report and the fact the sequester took effect March 1," Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.), ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee on health, employment, labor and pensions, said in an interview.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in February 2013 estimated that GDP growth would accelerate by 0.6 percentage points in the absence of the sequestration -- automatic, across-the-board spending cuts implemented by Congress -- but economists aren't yet certain of effect the spending cuts will have on the U.S. economy.

"No one knows. Democrats are going to say, 'Well, yeah, it's because of sequestration,' and they're going to blame the Republicans, but the sequestration wasn't the Republicans' fault," said Bob Brusca, chief economist of Fact & Opinion Economics. "Sequestration is a failure of Congress to come to on a plan -- a booby trap that it set for itself."

Brusca said that the labor force participation rate's deterioration is disconcerting and proof that the U.S. economy isn't poised to boom any time soon.

"It's not the job-creation numbers that worry me the most -- although they're very bad -- it's the labor force participation figures; those to me are tragic," said Dan Mitchell, senior fellow at the libertarian think-tank Cato Institute.

The participation rate in March dropped to 63.3%, its lowest level since 1979.

There were bright spots in the report.

February's nonfarm payrolls received an upward revision to 268,000 new jobs, from the robust 236,000 mark first reported last month. Payroll numbers for January also received a boost to 148,000, from the earlier estimate of 119,000.

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