Private sector hiring posts moderate gain in December

WASHINGTON - U.S. companies reported a modest gain of 153,000 jobs last month, all in service industries such as retail and health care, according to a private survey.

Payroll provider ADP says hotels and restaurants added 18,000 jobs in December, while higher-paying professional services, such as engineering, added 24,000. Manufacturers lost 9,000 jobs, and construction firms shed 2,000.

Last month ADP reported that businesses added 215,000 jobs in November, the strongest showing since June.

The December results point to ongoing, if moderate, job growth. Hiring averaged 174,000 jobs a month in 2016, according to ADP, down from an average of 209,000 in 2015.

The ADP data cover only private businesses and often diverge from official figures. Economists forecast that the government’s jobs report, being released Friday, will show a gain of 173,000 jobs, according to data provider FactSet.

The latest jobless claims numbers, also released on Thursday, showed a steep drop in new applications for unemployment benefits, to 235,000. That’s just above the recent low point hit in November and the second lowest figure since the 1973 low.