Survey: U.S. Businesses Hired At Healthy Pace Last Month

WASHINGTON (AP) — American businesses stepped up hiring last month, led by strong gains in retail, finance and other service industries, a private survey found.

         Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that companies added 217,000 jobs last month, the most in five months. Service sector firms added 204,000, while manufacturers hired just 6,000.

         The figures come just two days before the government issues its official jobs report for November. Economists forecast that it will show employers added 200,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate remained 5 percent.

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         A robust jobs report at the end of this week would make it very likely that the Federal Reserve would raise short-term interest rates later this month for the first time in nine years.

         Steady consumer spending is supporting greater hiring in services, which includes higher-paying professional positions such as information technology and engineering jobs. That is helping to offset weak job gains in sectors like manufacturing, which is struggling with faltering economies overseas and the strong dollar.

         The ADP survey covers only private businesses and frequently diverges from the official figures. ADP's hiring tallies were much higher than the government's in August and September, and then were far below the government's estimate last month.

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         Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which compiles the ADP data, said that hiring was strong in nearly all industries outside the oil and gas sector, which has been battered by low oil prices, and factories that compete with overseas producers. The dollar has jumped about 13 percent in value this year, which makes U.S. goods more expensive overseas.

         "It's very hard now to make any kind of argument that the Fed shouldn't begin the process of normalizing interest rates," Zandi said.

         – by AP Reporter Christopher S. Rugaber

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