WASHINGTON - U.S. businesses added just 166,000 jobs in September, only slightly more than the previous two months.
The lack of improvement in hiring, along with the threat of a prolonged government shutdown, could help persuade the Federal Reserve to delay scaling back its stimulus.
Payroll company ADP said Wednesday that private employers added just 159,000 jobs in August and 161,000 in July. Both were lower than the previous estimates.
In this Tuesday photo, registered nurse Salanda Bowman, left, talks with part-time Kentucky Wesleyan College student, Jason Ward, of Whitesville, about job openings at the Owensboro Health Regional Hospital during a Regional Career and Job Fair in the Owensboro Sports Center in Owensboro, Ky.
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, now that it appears the government shutdown will go past Wednesday.
The ADP data suggest that the economy is growing too slowly to rapidly boost hiring. Economists forecast that it expanded by a 1.5 percent to 2 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, down from a 2.5 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter.
At the same time, hiring has slowed, according to the government's more comprehensive employment 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 ADP figures show job growth remained sluggish in September.
"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."
Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, said the pace of job creation remains too weak to convince the Fed to scale back its $85-billion-a-month in bond purchases at its meeting later this month.