The number of employees at U.S. businesses rose in February by less than expected, underscoring the labor market’s struggle to recover despite a decline in Covid-19 infections in recent weeks.
Company payrolls rose by 117,000 during the month, according to ADP Research Institute data released Wednesday. The median projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for an increase of 205,000. The prior month was revised up to a 195,000 advance.
The figures suggest that employment gains continue to be held back by pandemic-related constraints on businesses and economic activity. Even so, many economists expect a meaningful improvement in the labor market in the coming months as Covid-19 vaccinations pick up and virus concerns ease.
“The labor market continues to post a sluggish recovery across the board,” Nela Richardson, ADP’s chief economist, said in a statement. “We’re seeing large-sized companies increasingly feeling the effects of Covid-19, while job growth in the goods producing sector pauses.”
Lawmakers are watching the labor market closely as they consider another economic stimulus bill. President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package — which includes an extension of federal unemployment benefits passed the House of Representatives on Saturday and the Senate is expected to vote on the legislation as soon as this week.
The data precede Friday’s monthly jobs report from the Labor Department, which is forecast to show that private payrolls increased by 200,000 in February, following a gain of just 6,000 in the prior month.
The gain in employment was led by services, which rose by 131,000, the ADP data showed. Payrolls at goods-producing businesses, meanwhile, decreased by 14,000, led by manufacturing.
The overall increase was concentrated in medium-size businesses. ADP’s payroll data represent firms employing nearly 26 million workers in the U.S.