Employers cut 17,000 jobs in January, the first reduction since August 2003, in yet another sign that the nation’s economy is weakening. However, the nation’s unemployment rate slipped to 4.9% from 5%. The jobless rate is calculated from a different statistical survey than the payroll figures. Job losses were felt among manufacturers, construction firms, government workers and a variety of professional and business services. Those cuts offset job gains in education, health care, retailing and elsewhere. Taken together, the figures suggested that employers have grown cautious as they try to cope with fallout from housing and credit problems and fears of a pending recession. In addition, average hourly earnings for employees rose to $17.75 in January, a 0.2% increase from the previous month, but less than what economists were expecting. Over the last 12 months wages grew 3.7%, although high energy and food prices have siphoned more dollars from people’s paychecks.