WASHINGTON — U.S. businesses added the most jobs in three years last month, a private survey found, a sign that hiring has accelerated sharply from last year's modest levels.
Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that businesses added 298,000 jobs in February, up from 261,000 the previous month. The gains were led by a huge 66,000 increase in construction, the most in 11 years, and 32,000 manufacturing jobs, the most in five years.
The hiring boom in construction was likely driven by unseasonably warm weather in most of the country. Construction sites typically shut down in snow or freezing weather. Still, job gains were broad-based and suggest that increased business optimism may have led to more hiring. January and February's job gains are above last year's average of about 185,000 per month.
"February proved to be an incredibly strong month for employment with increases we have not seen in years," said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute.
The ADP covers only private businesses and often diverges from official figures. Economists forecast that the government's jobs report, due Friday, will show an increase of 186,000, according to data provider FactSet.
Yet the large gain in the ADP figures will likely raise economists' expectations for the government's report. That report will be the final major economic data that Federal Reserve officials will see before their March 14-15 meeting, when they are widely expected to raise short-term interest rates for only the third time in nearly a decade.
A rate hike will be even more likely if the government's data reflects strong hiring similar to the ADP report. Many economists say job gains would have to plummet to roughly 50,000 or less to give the Fed pause.