The jobs gain fell far short of expectations, which predicted an additional 150,000 jobs and for the unemployment rate to remain stable at 8.1 percent.
In April, 77,000 jobs were created, a figure that was revised down from the 115,000 announced last month. Jobs data from March were also revised lower. The May figure is the lowest since August, when no jobs were added to the economy.
In May, healthcare added 33,000 jobs, transportation and warehousing 36,000 and wholesale trades 16,000. Truck transportation gained 7,000 workers while the manufacturing sector added 12,000. In contrast, construction trades lost 28,000 jobs in May, a traditional month for adding jobs for summer projects.
The Wall Street Journal said Labor Department information about the types of jobs being created, which industries were adding or subtracting jobs and whether wages were increasing, would prove more important than the raw numbers.
During a visit to Minneapolis, U.S. President Barack Obama noted the country was still fighting back from "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The economy was growing again but not as fast as expected, he said.
"Our businesses have created almost 4.3 million new jobs over the last 27 months but as we learned in today's jobs report, we're still not creating them as fast as we want," he said of Friday's jobs report.
The report, along with the one coming out a month from now, could have a considerable effect on the November elections, economists told USA Today, as voters firm up their thoughts about the economy. A trend toward a higher unemployment rate will undoubtedly be seized upon by both parties as a sign of failed policies by the opposition. Republicans will cite policy failures. Democrats will counter that Republicans have blocked job creation.
Midyear job growth has often been a reliable election predictor, the newspaper said.
Employment growth was strong in the spring and summer of 1972, 1984 and 1996 and to a lesser degree 2004 -- and incumbent presidents were re-elected, the newspaper said. The reverse was the case in 1976, 1980 and 1992, when incumbents lost.
Friday's job report is the first since Mitt Romney virtually clinched the GOP nomination with his Texas primary win Tuesday.
Romney called Friday's report, "devastating news for American workers and American families."
"This week has seen a cascade of one bad piece of economic news after another," he said.
"The president's re-election slogan may be 'Forward,' but it seems like we've been moving backward," he said.
White House economic adviser Alan Krueger said in an online blog, "We are still fighting back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."
"Today we learned that the economy has added private sector jobs for 27 straight months, for a total of 4.3 million payroll jobs over that period." However, he said, the economy "is not growing fast enough," CBS News reported.