On Friday, panicking investors pushed the Dow over the cliff, sending the index spiraling into its third-worst sell-off year-to-date. And can you blame them? After all, the news Friday was simply abysmal. New job growth in the U.S. fell short of consensus expectations for 513,000, and far short of the 600,000 new jobs that Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) had told us to expect.

In fact, the U.S. economy created only 431,000 new jobs last month -- and more than 95% of the jobs it did create came courtesy of the U.S. Census (see the last column below). Private employers added only 41,000 citizens to the payroll, while federal, state, and local agencies (ex-Census) actually laid off 21,000 workers. Clearly, we are all doomed.

Or are we? I'm all in favor of a good pity party, but isn't it possible that we're all reading just a bit too much into this single report, on one month's data? Maybe I'm a Fool for suggesting this, but it seems to me that the Census's high-profile hiring push could have been part of the reason that private hiring was depressed last month.

Consider: The government's lending of money to JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) at 0% interest has crushed the rates that private depositors earn on their savings accounts. (Simply put, the banks don't need our money anymore.) Perhaps a similar effect occurred in the hiring market last month. The government's massive hiring spree of hundreds of thousands of employees, all in a rush, might have "sucked the air out of the room" for private employers. I mean, how many private employers are out there these days offering jobs -- that do not even require a high school diploma -- at rates running from the low-teens to as much as $20 an hour?

I don't know the exact answer, but in attempting to find out, I happened to run across an article on Ford's (NYSE: F) ballyhooed rehiring effort from earlier this year. Up at the Cleveland V-6 engine plant, Ford's hiring new workers at the union-approved rate of $14 an hour. Want to guess what Census workers earn in Cleveland? (Answer: $15.25.)

Foolish takeaway
Now listen -- I'm not saying this is the definitive answer to what happened with U.S. employment last month. But I am saying that, before we rush to sign the Republic's death certificate and invest our life's savings in gold, guns, and canned food ... we might consider the possibility. Take a deep breath, and wait to see what happens next month.

Take the Foolish Rorschach test. Do you see something different in today's chart? Tell us about it below.

Ford is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection, but Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Fool has a disclosure policy.