Professional and business services added 51,000 jobs in March to lift 12-month employment in the industry to 533,000. Construction employment gained, while the leisure and hospitality sector added jobs.

"I would say new job growth was well diversified across industries; the revisions from January and February were certainly a positive point," said Dave Roda, a regional chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank.

While weak, labor remains in an upwardly trending cycle.

"I think just psychologically here we're at a very nasty juncture, because you have now shifted away from new all-time highs in stocks to now the economy being weak," said Michael Gayed, chief investment strategist at Pension Partners, LLC.

The March employment situation served a stark reminder that, while investors have ridden one of the best quarters for stocks since the financial crisis, America's unemployed still haven't escaped the destruction of the Great Recession.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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