Private-sector job growth unexpectedly stumbled last month, with U.S. companies hiring workers at the slowest pace in three years, payroll firm Automatic Data Processing said Wednesday.
Employers added 156,000 net new jobs in April, a sharp fall-off from a downwardly revised 194,000 the previous month.
The last time ADP reported weaker job growth was in March 2013.
Analysts had expected a gain of about 193,000 net new private-sector jobs last month. The disappointing figure raises additional concerns about the health of the U.S. economy after weak overall growth in the first quarter.
The job market appears to have stumbled in April. Job growth noticeably slowed, with some weakness across most sectors, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moodys Analytics, which assists ADP in preparing the monthly report.
One month does not make a trend, but this bears close watching as the financial market turmoil earlier in the year may have done some damage to business hiring, he said.
Economists had attributed the anemic first quarter to the sharp declines in financial markets that began in January. The labor market continued to show strength during that period, buoying expectations for a broader second-quarter rebound in economic growth.
ADP showed a decline in the pace of hiring across several major sectors.
Manufacturers, who have struggled as the rising value of the dollar has made U.S. goods more expensive overseas, shed 13,000 net jobs last month.
Hiring by trade, transportation and utility companies grew by 25,000 net new positions, down from 42,000 the previous month.
And construction companies increased their payrolls by 14,000, the third-straight monthly decline.
The ADP data is viewed as a harbinger of the governments jobs report, due out on Friday, although the two figures sometimes are at odds.
Analysts forecast the Labor Department report will show the broader U.S. economy private and public sectors added 200,000 net new jobs in April. The number would be down from 215,000 the previous month but still would represent solid growth.
The unemployment rate is expected to tick down 0.1 percentage point to 4.9 percent, which would be the lowest in more than eight years.