April 1, 2005 -- Even as the nation created fewer jobs than anticipated last month, the unemployment rate fell, reported the Labor Department.

Employers added 110,000 jobs in March, half of what analysts expected and 133,000 fewer than in February. The national unemployment rate, which is measured by a survey of households, fell from 5.4% to 5.2%.

"The labor market isn't as weak as the 110,000 indicates. But it's also not as strong as the 5.2 percent, either," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com. "The reality lies between the two."

Soaring energy prices in March were a factor, cutting into margins, which lowered the demand for labor, according to Zandi. In the third week of the month, crude oil neared $57 a barrel, a 17% jump from the third week in February.

Other surveys indicate the job market is fairly strong, said Zandi. The increased demand for help wanted advertisements is one example, he said.

March's payroll growth was lowest level since July, when 83,000 jobs were created. While the number of jobs in manufacturing and retail fell, the construction and consulting sectors added the most, 26,00 and 27,000 respectively, according to the Labor Department report.

The average number of hours worked per week has remained at 33.7 hours over the last three months.