Survey: U.S. businesses add a modest 153,000 jobs in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. companies reported a modest gain of 153,000 jobs last month, all in service industries such as retail and health care. The report provided the latest evidence of the economy’s transition away from manufacturing and other blue-collar work.

Payroll provider ADP said Thursday that hotels and restaurants added 18,000 jobs in December, while higher-paying professional and business services, such as engineering, added 24,000. Manufacturers lost 9,000 jobs and construction firms shed 2,000.

Hiring has been steady this year, but most of it has been in both higher- and lower-paying service jobs. Factories, by contrast, have cut workers as a strong dollar and weak overseas growth have hammered exports of U.S. goods.

The mining industry, which includes oil and gas drilling, also lost jobs last year amid low energy prices. Those trends pose challenges for President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to boost job growth in those sectors.

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The report also points to a modest slowdown in hiring. Businesses added a robust 215,000 jobs in November. Hiring averaged 174,000 jobs a month in 2016, according to ADP, down from an average of 209,000 in 2015. Most economists expect job gains to slow a bit more in 2017 because businesses have a smaller pool of unemployed people to hire from.

The economy picked up in the July-September quarter, expanding at a solid 3.5 percent annual rate, but growth is expected to be sluggish for all of 2016. Still, consumer confidence has jumped since the election, particularly among Republican voters, and the stock market is near record highs.

Businesses are also confident enough in future consumer demand to hold onto their workers. Applications for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, fell to just 235,000 last week, nearly the lowest level since 1973.

The ADP data cover only private businesses and often diverge from official figures. Economists forecast that the government’s jobs report, to be released Friday, will show a gain of 173,000, according to data provider FactSet.

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That report may also show that the unemployment rate ticked up to 4.7 percent in December, up from 4.6 percent the previous month, economists expect. Still, that is a low rate that suggests employers may have to offer higher pay to attract and keep workers. That could deliver broader pay gains for more Americans.