Canada lost 54,500 jobs in March, the biggest single-month blow to the country’s employment numbers in four years.

The economic stumble wiped out the gains of the previous month and sent the country’s unemployment rate to 7.2 per cent.

The manufacturing industry took one of the biggest hits with 24,200 jobs wiped out, while accommodation and food services lost 24,900 jobs. Another 24,300 people found themselves out of work in public administration, and corrections lost almost 10,000 jobs.

Among the areas that saw gains was the self-employment sector -- 38,700 added jobs -- although it’s considered to be low-paying overall.

The number of people who lost employer-paid work was actually 93,100, with 85,400 in the private sector.

"The underlying numbers are ugly (but) the employment decline would have been even worse but for a large jump in self-reported self-employment," said labour economist Erin Weir.

Hours worked also dropped 0.4 per cent, while wages were only 2.1 per cent higher compared to last year.

In a statement, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty called the news "disappointing," but said the monthly report was a "snapshot in time" that does not reflect the full picture.

"If you look at job creation since the depth of the global recession in July 2009, employment in Canada has increased by nearly 900,000 and is now more than 465,000 above its pre-recession peak," he said.

He added that the overall economy is better than it was before the recession.

Speaking to CTV News Channel, RBC economist Dawn Desjardins echoed Flaherty’s sentiment that the job numbers were “very disappointing” but added that they “corrected for the fact that we had hit a bit of an air pocket in the second half of last year in terms of growth, so (we’re) now just catching up to that.”

However, in finance, insurance and real estate, 121,100 jobs were gained, while 10,300 jobs were added in professional, scientific and technical services.

Employment dropped in six provinces, with Ontario and Quebec reporting the biggest losses – 17,000 workers each.

Alberta lost 11,300 jobs; British Columbia lost 14,800, while Nova Scotia picked up 2,900 jobs.

Looking ahead, Desjardins said there are signs of “an increasing momentum in Canada’s economy on the growth side in the first quarter of this year” and that momentum is expected to continue as the U.S. economy gets back on its feet.

With a report from The Canadian Press