US jobs gain slows as hiring by construction firms pauses

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The private sector in the United States added 158,000 jobs last month, sharply below February's growth as the jobs market slowly recovers, payrolls firm ADP said on Wednesday.

The worse-than-expected March reading followed February's upwardly revised figure of 237,000 new jobs, from an initial estimate of 198,000. Analysts on average forecast 197,000 new jobs were added last month.

Last month's number was well below the first quarter's average monthly gain of 191,000 jobs and marked the smallest increase since October.

The massive US services sector continued to generate the greatest job growth, adding 151,000 posts in March from February. Goods-producing employment rose by 7,000 jobs, the slowest growth in six months. Manufacturing gained 6,000 jobs. Construction added no jobs, after three months of average gains of 29,000.

"Construction employment gains paused as the rebuilding surge in the wake of Superstorm Sandy ended," said Mr Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, referring to the devastating storm that battered the North-east at the end of October.

"The job market continues to improve, but in fits and starts," he said.

The ADP report came ahead of the government's closely watched jobs and unemployment data on Friday.

The Labour Department was expected to report that the US gained 192,000 jobs last month, slowing significantly from growth of 236,000 in February, and the jobless rate was unchanged at 7.7 per cent.