The nation's employers cut back on hiring in July, with payrolls growing by just 92,000, below this year's monthly average of 136,000 new jobs, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Despite the decline, the national unemployment rate was roughly unchanged at 4.6 percent. Last month's gains were driven by the service sector, while sharp declines were reported in construction and manufacturing.

Among smaller businesses, hiring remained solid in July, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, a Washington-based lobby. A survey of its 600,000 members found that 16 percent reported an average increase of 4 workers per firm last month, compared to 11 percent reporting workforce reductions averaging 2.4 workers. When adjusted for seasonal variations, those numbers reflect an overall gain of just 0.1 employees per firm over the past few months.

"Fifty-four percent reported hiring or trying to hire new workers, 80 percent reported 'few or no qualified applicants' for their positions," William Dunkelberg, the group's chief economist, said in a statement. "That's a tight labor market."

Published on: Aug 3, 2007