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WASHINGTON - Private-sector hiring remained steady in April, a private employment survey found, a sign the U.S. economy continues to expand despite recent signs of a slowdown.

Businesses added 177,000 jobs last month, ADP said Wednesday. Although that figure is the lowest in six months, it is strong enough to keep the nation's 4.5 percent unemployment rate ticking down. 

The ADP figure covers only businesses and doesn't include government payrolls. It often diverges from official data. Last month, the government said employers added only 98,000 jobs, far below the robust hiring in ADP's report.

Samuel Coffin, an economist with UBS, said the latest ADP figures likely reflect the downturn in March hiring, noting that the payroll processing firm incorporates past hiring data in each month's estimate.

The report comes after other recent signs the economy has slowed. Growth was just 0.7 percent at an annual rate in the first quarter, the weakest pace in three years, and auto sales slumped last month.

Most of the hiring was in services businesses, such as health care, restaurants, hotels, and shipping. Manufacturing added 11,000 jobs, a modest gain, while construction firms cut 2,000 positions. Construction hiring accelerated in the first two months of the year, when the weather was warmer than usual, and has leveled off since then.

ADP's report is in line with economists' forecast for the government's jobs report, which will be released Friday. That report will likely show that employers added 185,000 jobs in April, predict.

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While hiring fell to a six-month low, most economists weren't concerned. Paul Ashworth, an economist at research firm Capital Economics, said April's job gains are enough to lower the unemployment rate over time.

"[W]ith the unemployment rate down to only 4.5 percent, there is no way that employment could continue to expand at in excess of 200,000 per month," he said in a note.

A report released by LinkedIn on Wednesday also points to a healthy job market. The career networking firm said April was the strongest month for hiring in two years.