Washington - The US unemployment rate fell to 8.1% in April as the economy created a modest 115 000 jobs, official figures showed on Friday, the eve of President Barack Obama's maiden reelection rally.
Despite the meager job creation, the Labour Department data showed unemployment at the lowest level in over three years.
But the report will do little to sweeten popular sentiment about the health of the recovery, which has been beset by pitfalls.
The number of unemployed fell by 200 000 to 12.5 million.
The drop in unemployment was in part due to workers dropping out of the jobs market.
Participation fell to 63.6%.
Confidence has become a shaky plank of the US recovery from the 2008-09 recession, hit by earthquakes, fiscal crises, revolutions and infuriatingly mixed data.
Economists had expected unemployment to be stuck at 8.2%, with the economy creating 162 000 jobs during the month.
The report will be more keenly parsed over by the White House than usual.
On Saturday Obama will visit Ohio and Virginia to begin to make his case for re-election.
Half of all voters say the economy is the single biggest issue in this November's election.
Since Obama took office in January 2009, the unemployment rate has arched from 7.8% at inauguration to 10% as the impact of the financial crisis spread, and back down to 8.1% today.
Obama's fate could turn on whether he can convince voters that his policies avoided another Great Depression and that his rival would return to policies that failed in the past.