WASHINGTON (AP) -- A survey shows U.S. businesses added 166,000 jobs last month, a sign of only modest improvement in hiring.
Payroll company ADP said Wednesday that private employers added just 159,000 jobs in August and 161,000 in July, both slightly lower than the previous estimates.
The figures are taking on greater importance because they may be the only measure of the September job market for some time. The Labor Department will have to delay its September jobs report, scheduled for Friday, if the government shutdown goes past Wednesday.
The ADP data suggests that the economy has been growing too slowly to rapidly boost hiring. Economists forecast that it expanded at just a 2 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, down from a 2.5 percent pace in the April-June quarter.
At the same time, hiring slowed, according to the government's figures. Employers have added 155,000 jobs a month in the four months through August. That's down from an average of 205,000 in the first four months of the year.
"The job market appears to have softened in recent months," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which helps compile the report. "While job growth has slowed, there remains a general resilience in the market. Job creation continues to be consistent with a slowly declining unemployment rate."
Construction firms added 16,000 jobs last month, one of the few highlights of the September report. But manufacturers gained just 1,000 and have cut jobs through the first nine months of the year, according to ADP.
Financial services firms shed 4,000 jobs. That likely reflects layoffs at many banks' mortgage processing divisions. The number of mortgage refinancing applications fell sharply after borrowing rates over the summer.
The ADP report covers hiring only in the private sector. The figures often diverge from the government's more comprehensive jobs report. The government's September jobs report is expected to show that employers added 180,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.3 percent.