By Don Lee Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The American job market appears to be holding up fairly well in the face of higher payroll taxes this year and uncertainty over government budget cuts — so far anyway.
The payroll processing firm ADP said Wednesday its data showed that private employers added a solid 198,000 jobs in February, compared with a little over 200,000 in the prior two months.
ADP’s analysis suggests that the government’s official jobs report for February, due out on Friday, may be a bit stronger than what many analysts are forecasting. On average, economists are expecting gains of about 160,000, according to Moody’s Analytics, which works with ADP in analyzing the numbers.
ADP’s monthly tally is based on payroll checks that it processes for about 24 million employees at private firms. Its record in tracking the government’s official job numbers is mixed. ADP’s data for January had private-sector jobs up by 215,000, considerably more than the 166,000 additions reported by the government. (The official figures for January could be revised higher on Friday.)
The report by ADP was encouraging in that it showed small employers, those with fewer than 50 workers, accounting for 77,000, or 39 percent, of the jobs added last month. Small businesses have been lagging in sales and job growth in this recovery, but there are indications that the housing market’s rebound is starting to juice up business and hiring at smaller companies.
ADP’s data showed the construction industry added a healthy 21,000 jobs last month. Manufacturing payrolls rose by 9,000, and the finance sector bulked up by 7,000.
The overall job gains reported by ADP are broadly consistent with the decreasing numbers of first-time claims for jobless benefits, as well as the report this week from managers at service-sector firms indicating steady employment gains in February.
The ADP report does not calculate the unemployment rate or payroll figures for the public sector. Government at all levels cut 9,000 total jobs in January. The jobless rate was 7.9 percent.