In another sign of an improving economy, private companies added 216,000 jobs in February, according to a study released Wednesday.
The new numbers mark a significant improvement over the 173,000 jobs added in January, according to Automatic Data Processing Inc., a New Jersey human resources, payroll and benefits company that releases a monthly jobs report based on data from nearly 500,000 clients.
The biggest jump came in the service sector, which added 170,000 jobs, according to the report. "Goods-producing" businesses — including agriculture, construction and manufacturing — added 46,000 jobs in February.
"For February, virtually every sector of the economy added jobs — something I hope will continue for the rest of 2012," ADP Chief Executive Carlos Rodriguez said.
The increase in new jobs in February marks the 25th consecutive monthly gain in private-sector employment and suggests the national unemployment rate of 8.3% may have dropped slightly, said Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, a St. Louis economic forecasting firm that partnered with ADP to produce the monthly report.
"Conditions continue to improve at a moderate pace and are consistent with other indicators suggesting some firming of the labor market," he added.
The U.S. Labor Department and California are scheduled to release monthly job statistics Friday.