Survey: Utilities show job gains in January

ByChristopher S. Rugaber, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. companies hired at a solid pace last month, a private survey found, the latest sign of steady improvement in the job market.

Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that companies added 213,000 jobs last month, a decent increase though also the smallest in four months. The figure suggests Friday's government report will also show a solid burst of hiring. Economists surveyed by FactSet expect the government's report will show that employers added 230,000 jobs.

The ADP numbers cover only private businesses and sometimes diverge from the government's more comprehensive report, which includes government agencies.

Businesses have added 200,000 jobs or more in nine of the past 10 months, according to the ADP report.

Manufacturers added 14,000 jobs, down from 23,000 in December. Construction companies hired 18,000 more workers, down from 26,000 the previous month. But services companies ramped up hiring: A category that includes retail, transportation and utilities firms added 54,000 jobs, up from 40,000 in December.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which compiles the report, said that oil and gas drilling companies have started to cut back on their payrolls in response to a sharp drop in the price of oil. Yet companies that have benefited from lower oil prices have yet to step up hiring, he said.

Overall, healthy economic growth has encouraged employers to add jobs. The economy expanded at a 4.1 percent annual pace in the final nine months of last year. Consumers ramped up their spending in the fourth quarter at the fastest pace since 2006, as lower gas prices and steady job growth boosted their spending power. Most analysts expect the economy to grow this year at the fastest pace in a decade.

Employers added nearly 3 million new jobs in 2014, making it the best year for hiring since 1999. Still, the job market is not yet back to full health. There are about 6.8 million people are working part-time but would prefer full-time work, up from just 4.1 million before the downturn.

And last year's job gains have yet to push up wages much. They rose just 2.1 percent in 2014, the Labor Department said last week. That's up slightly from the previous year, but below the roughly 3.5 percent gain that is consistent with a healthy economy.

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