"It's amazing how this market absorbs bad news since the Bear Stearns debacle," said Dave Rovelli, managing director of equity trading at brokerage Canaccord Adams Inc.
"Everybody thinks we're towards the end of the big write-downs, let's hope there are no more hidden bombs out there," said Rovelli.
After struggling in positive territory at the start, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was more recently off 64 points to 12,562.03, with 20 of its 30 components trading lower, with the losses led by General Motors Corp. , off 3.8%.
Blue-chip gains were led by United Technologies Corp. , up 1.2%, and Caterpillar Inc. , ahead 0.9%.
Financial stocks were among those to slip in early trade, with the Financial Select Sector SPDR down 1.4%.
On the Dow, Citigroup Inc. fell 2.7%, while J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. shed 2.1%.
The S&P 500 declined 1.66 points to 1,367.65, with financials the sector declining the most, off 1.4%, followed by telecommunication services, off 1.1%, and consumer discretionary, down 0.8%.
The utility sector fronted gains on the S&P, up 1.6%, followed by energy, recently ahead 1.4%.
The Nasdaq Composite shed 3.04 points to 2,360.26.
Volume at the New York Stock Exchange neared 954 million shares, while 518 million shares exchanged hands on the Nasdaq. Advancing stocks edged just past those declining on the NYSE while decliners passed advancers on the Nasdaq.
An hour ahead of the opening bell, stock index futures shaved strong gains after the Labor Department said U.S. employers cut back their hiring in March for the third month in a row, with the unemployment rate soaring to 5.1%, the highest since September 2005. .
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude-oil futures gained, with the spot month up $1.54 at $105.42 a barrel. .
Gold futures also climbed, with the contract for June delivery up $2.20 at $907.2 an ounce. .
In overseas trade, stocks in Tokyo fell, with automobile shares among those weighting on the market. .
In Europe, shares wobbled in the wake of the U.S. jobs data. .
By Kate Gibson