Reporting from Washington — Private-sector employment climbed 201,000 in March, in line with economists' forecasts, a report by Automatic Data Processing Inc. found.
The report Wednesday also found that private payrolls rose 208,000 in February, down slightly from ADP's initial estimate of a 217,000 increase.
The average monthly increase in employment over the last four months has been 211,000, consistent with a gradual decline in the unemployment rate. Economists estimate that the economy has to add about 125,000 jobs a month to keep pace with population growth.
In the previous four months, the gain averaged just 74,000.
"There has been a clear and sustained acceleration in private-payroll gains," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
Employment in the service-producing sector rose 164,000 in March, according to ADP, while employment in the goods-producing sector increased 37,000. The factory sector added 37,000 jobs.
In March, employment rose 102,000 among small businesses, 82,000 among medium-sized businesses and 17,000 among large businesses, according to the report.
The ADP report does not include the government sector, where the outlook for jobs remains grim as cities and states struggle with budget deficits.
On Friday the government will report on March nonfarm payrolls, which do include government workers. Economists polled by MarketWatch are looking for a gain of 192,000 and expect the nation's unemployment rate to rise to 9.0% from 8.9% in February.
Many analysts are cautious about making too much of the ADP data. Although February's ADP data came close to the overall payroll gain last month, ADP overestimated private-payroll gains in December and January and has also frequently underestimated the government's report.
The job market has gotten other recent pieces of good news. The Labor Department reported last week that the four-week moving average for new applications for jobless benefits fell to 385,250, the lowest level since July 2008.
Elsewhere Wednesday, outplacement consultancy firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. reported that planned layoffs reached just over 41,528 in March, down 39% from the same month a year earlier.
The public sector accounted for 46% of March layoffs, Challenger said.
Robb writes for MarketWatch.com/McClatchy.