U.S. job growth slowed sharply in March amid continued layoffs in the embattled retail sector, but a drop in the unemployment rate to a near 10-year low of 4.5 percent suggested labor market strength remained intact.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 98,000 jobs last month, the fewest since last May, the Labor Department said on Friday.

Job gains, which had exceeded 200,000 in January and February, were also held back by a slowdown in hiring at construction sites, factories and leisure and hospitality businesses, which had been boosted by unseasonably warm temperatures earlier in the year.

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