The U.S. economy added a paltry 96,000 jobs last month, far fewer than economists were expecting, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent but only because more Americans had given up finding work.

Analysts surveyed by Reuters expected 125,000 new jobs and no change in the nation's 8.3 percent unemployment rate. The August job creation figure contrasts with 163,000 jobs created in July.

"Both the civilian labor force (154.6 million) and the labor force participation rate (63.5 percent) declined in August," the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.

The number of unemployed people in the U.S. held at 12.5 million. The number of long-term unemployed, those jobless for 27 weeks or more, was little changed at 5 million. Such individuals accounted for 40 percent of the unemployed.