WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. companies added 200,000 jobs in March, buoyed by strong gains in construction, retail and shipping, according to a private survey.
Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that financial services firms also posted solid gains, while manufacturing employment barely rose.
The figures point to an economy that is continuing to generate steady hiring, despite worries that growth slowed in the first three months of the year, held back by weak overseas economies and cautious consumers.
The ADP report comes out two days before the U.S. government's official jobs report. The ADP numbers cover only private businesses and often diverge from the official figures.
Economists surveyed by the data firm FactSet predict that American employers added 200,000 jobs in March, down from 242,000 in February, while unemployment stayed 4.9 percent.
Yet some other economic data has come in weaker than many analysts expected, sparking concerns about growth. Americans barely increased their spending in February, the government said earlier this week, and spent much less in January than previously estimated.
Those figures caused many economists to sharply reduce their forecasts for growth in the first quarter. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta now predicts the economy will expand at just a 0.6 percent annual rate.
That would be sharply below the fourth quarter's already-sluggish 1.4 percent growth rate.
With the economy sputtering, analysts worry that slower hiring will soon follow. The ADP numbers, however, indicate that job gains remain solid.
"The resilience of the labor market suggests that the economy is not in any serious trouble," Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which compiles ADP figures, said that GDP will likely be revised higher in the coming months.
"If you are trying to understand how this economy is doing, I wouldn't pay attention to the GDP numbers," Zandi said on a conference call. "I would pay attention to the jobs numbers. We can count jobs."
Contact Chris Rugaber at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber