By Jim Puzzanghera Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — Employment growth slowed last month as the private sector added 158,000 jobs, a sharp reduction from February and below analyst expectations, payroll processing firm ADP said Wednesday.
The March figure was well below the 237,000 private-sector jobs added in February, a number that was revised up from the initial report of 198,000.
Economists had expected ADP would show about 200,000 private-sector jobs were added in March.
The ADP report is a key private data point ahead of the government’s monthly unemployment report, which is due Friday.
Analysts have been expecting the Labor Department to report that the overall economy added about 198,000 payroll jobs last month and that the unemployment rate held steady at 7.7 percent. The government reported that the economy added a stronger-than-expected 236,000 jobs in February.
“Job growth moderated in March,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, which assists ADP with its monthly report. “The job market continues to improve, but in fits and starts.”
Zandi noted that a surge in construction employment, driven by rebuilding efforts from Superstorm Sandy in October, paused last month. The construction industry added no new jobs in March, according to the ADP report, after an average gain of about 35,000 from November through February.
He said anticipation of changes from the health care reform law also could be weighing on companies.
Zandi expected construction job growth to pick up again in the coming months. He anticipated the government would report the economy added about 175,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate would tick up to 7.8 percent.
But as large automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration begin taking effect this month, Zandi anticipates job growth will get weaker in the next six to nine months while businesses adjust.
Monthly job creation could dip from about 175,000 to as little as 100,000 before starting to rebound again next year, he said.