"Job growth in January was good, but growth overall remains too slow to provide work for all who want and need it," said Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.
"Unfortunately, Congress appears once again poised to make matters worse, with automatic budget cuts that will inflict harm on the economy—and America's working families," she added.
Indeed, there were some signs that persistent issues with the American jobs picture were clearing up, despite the fears of what Washington might do.
For the first time in nearly two years, the average duration of unemployment made a significant move lower.
That number fell to 35.3 weeks, its lowest since January 2011.
However, a separate unemployment measure that also takes into account those who have quit looking for jobs as well as those working part-time for economic reasons remained unchanged at 14.4 percent.
Though the report showed total net job gains, the actual number of Americans in the workforce was little changed, rising just 17,000. The labor force participation rate, considered a key metric in determining optimism among job seekers, was unchanged near 30-year lows at 63.6 percent.
Another key data point, the average work week, also was unchanged at 34.4 hours, while wages rose 4 cents an hour to $23,78, representing a 2.1 percent gain over the past year.
"When you look at January in and of itself you do not see the strength you would like to see at this point," said Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG. "However, chances are January gets revised upward, you have to wait another month unfortunately. It's kind of an in-between month in that regard."
Though some recent economic reports, particularly in housing, show an economy on the mend, gains in jobs have been hard to come by.
Average job creation for 2012 was around 181,000, following BLS revisions, a number considered a shade above the benchmark for the unemployment rate to stabilize but not fall.
Most significantly, Federal Reserve monetary policy is now tied directly to the jobless rate. The U.S. central bank has said it will not alter its zero interest rate policy until the jobless rate falls to 6.5 percent and inflation eclipses 2.5 percent.
"There's going to be a lot of chatter about how and when the Fed pulls back on quantitative easing," Sonders said.
—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him on Twitter at