Private-sector job growth dropped last month but U.S. companies still posted a solid 212,000 net new jobs, payroll firm Automatic Data Processing said Wednesday.
The figure was down from January's upwardly revised total of 250,000, and it was a bit below economists' expectations of 220,000 net new jobs.
Nevertheless, the report indicated that the labor market is continuing to heal.
“Job growth is strong, but slowing from the torrid pace of recent months," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, which assists ADP in preparing the report.
"Job gains remain broad-based, although the collapse in oil prices has begun to weigh on energy-related employment," he said. "At the current pace of growth, the economy will return to full employment by mid-2016.”
Service-sector businesses increased their payrolls by 181,000 last month, down from 206,000 in January, ADP reported.
Growth in higher-paying manufacturing jobs fell to 3,000 in February, from 15,000 the previous month. Another good-paying field, construction, added 31,000 net new jobs last month, the same as in January.
The ADP data are watched by economists as an early indicator of the broader read on the jobs market, due Friday from the Labor Department.
Economists expect that report to show that the private and public sectors added a combined 230,000 net new jobs last month and that the unemployment rate ticked down to 5.6%.
The job-creation figure would be down from January's 257,000 and could reflect the effects of severe winter weather in the Northeast and elsewhere.
But the job totals still would be strong.
If the consensus forecast from economists is close to being on the mark, it would be the 12th straight month in which the nation added at least 200,000 net new jobs, the best streak since 1994-95.
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