The jobless rate rose a tenth of a point to 4.4 percent, returning to the level seen in June.
Analysts had warned that the August jobs numbers can sometimes be soft, at least in the initial report, but even so the figure fell well below a consensus forecast of 183,000.
The news was sure to be unwelcome in the White House, as President Donald Trump has taken credit for reinvigorating the American economy and for the solid job creation since he took office. He has pledged to add 25 million jobs over the next decade — a goal economists say is unrealistic.
With payroll gains for the prior three months revised downward by a cumulative 48,000, average monthly job creation for 2017 now stands at 176,000, compared to 187,000 in 2016.
Private employment rose by 165,000, below the 173,000 forecast, and far below the 237,000 reported this week by payroll services firm ADP.
The biggest gains were seen in services, a dominant part of the economy, but manufacturing employment rose 36,000, putting the sector up 155,000 since reaching a low point in November.
And the construction industry added 28,000 workers in August.
But a 9,000-job contraction in the government workforce weighed on the total.