U.S. businesses added more than 200,000 jobs in February for the 13th straight month, a private survey found. It was the latest sign that strong hiring should boost the economy this year.
Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that companies added 212,000 jobs last month, a solid gain, though down from 250,000 in the previous month. January's figure was revised up from 213,000.
The figures come just before Friday's government report on the labor market, which economists forecast will show an increase of 240,000 jobs, according to a survey by data provider FactSet. The unemployment rate is expected to fall to 5.6 percent from 5.7 percent.
The ADP numbers cover only private businesses and sometimes diverge from the government's more comprehensive report, which includes government agencies.
A burst of hiring in the past year has lifted the number of Americans earning paychecks, and a sharp drop in gas prices means those paychecks can buy more goods and services. That has accelerated U.S. economic growth and encouraged companies to add jobs at a steady pace.
Still, February's hiring was the slowest in nine months, according to the ADP data. Most economists have expected a slight slowdown, however, after a run of huge job gains. Employers added 423,000 jobs in November, and more than 1 million from November through January, the fastest three-month pace since 1997. More than 3 million people have been hired in the past 12 months.
"Job growth is strong, but slowing from the torrid pace of recent months," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "Job gains remain broad-based, although the collapse in oil prices has begun to weigh on energy-related employment." Moody's Analytics helps compile the report.
Those job gains are lifting consumer spending, which rose in last year's fourth quarter at the fastest pace in four years. Spending grew at a solid 0.3 percent rate in January, after adjusting for prices, which fell.
Zandi also said heavy snow and unseasonably cold weather in the Northeast may have dragged down hiring last month.
Still, he expects the economy to grow 3 percent this year, a level consistent with hiring of about 250,000 a month.