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People line up for a job fair in New York City last week. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is worried that the unemployment rate could be settling at current levels, which is problematic because more than five million fewer people are employed today than at the pre-recession peak.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

U.S. employment numbers have come in way below estimates, setting the stage for more worries about the strength of the U.S. economy and adding to the early morning downdraft on stock futures.

Non-farm payrolls rose by an anemic 69,000 jobs, compared to expectations of a rise of about 155,000 jobs, while the U.S. jobless rate increased to 8.2 per cent, from 8.1 per cent. Economists had expected the unemployment rate to remain unchanged.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had been down around 110 points just before the release of the figures at 8:30, fell to a loss of 194 points immediately afterwards. Bond prices and gold both rallied, while European stock markets added to losses.

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Gold rallied to a gain of $15 to $1,575 (U.S.) an ounce, indicating that some investors are betting the dismal job figures will be enough to encourage the Federal Reserve to launch another round of monetary easing at its June meeting.

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