Wall Street fell sharply Friday after the government's much-anticipated employment report showed weaker-than-expected job growth and a rise...

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NEW YORK — Wall Street fell sharply Friday after the government’s much-anticipated employment report showed weaker-than-expected job growth and a rise in the unemployment rate.

The Dow Jones industrial average slid 256.54, nearly 2 percent, to 12,800.18.

Microsoft, one of the 30 Dow stocks, fell 99 cents Friday to $34.38 a share, and was down 4.8 percent for the week. Boeing, also a Dow stock, skidded $1.16 Friday to $85.82, and was off 2.8 percent for the week.

The technology-focused Nasdaq composite index, also pummeled by a downgrade of Intel, plunged 98.03, or 3.8 percent, to 2,504.65. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index tumbled 35.53, or 2.5 percent, to 1,411.63.

Government reports on jobs and manufacturing added to investor concerns about a slowdown in the economy, and the U.S. stock market is off to the worst start since 2000.

The slump may limit consumers’ budgets for computers, software and equipment. Technology-related shares dropped the most, dragging the Nasdaq down 3.8 percent.

Apple, Google and Research In Motion, among the best-performing technology stocks last year, led the Nasdaq down. Apple slumped $14.88, or 7.6 percent, to $180.05. Google fell $28.33 to $657 and Research In Motion declined $9.47 to $103.35.

“The market is spooking itself,” said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis. “It’s natural for people to get nervous when everyone is getting nervous.”

The Labor Department’s report that employers raised payrolls by only 18,000 and that the nation’s unemployment rate rose to its highest level since November 2005 unnerved investors, who worried that a weakening job market will hurt consumer spending and tip the economy toward recession.

Investors had been awaiting the jobs report for weeks as they tried to determine whether the economy would continue to benefit from robust consumer spending even as sectors like home construction, mortgage writing and manufacturing slow.

Wall Street is concerned that areas of weakness could puncture growth if consumers can’t depend on a solid job market.

“It’s a scary number, no question about it. No matter how good you wanted to feel about the economy averting a recession, there is far less conviction than even two or three days ago,” said Joe Balestrino, senior portfolio manager at Federated Investors.

It’s been a difficult start to 2008 on Wall Street. After selling off in the final session of last year on Monday, investors spent the first three sessions of the new year absorbing a weaker-than-expected reading on the manufacturing sector, oil that reached $100 a barrel and Friday’s dismal employment numbers.

“It’s hard to point to any piece of data in recent weeks that makes you feel comfortable,” said Balestrino, noting that many bullish investors had hoped a strong jobs picture would lift Wall Street’s mood.

“This is the one piece that was holding up pretty well and now it’s showing some weakness as well,” he said. “In our business it’s not the absolute number, it’s the direction of the number and especially the direction versus the expectations.”