US private employers continued to hire workers in April, but it was the slowest gain in three years, falling far short of economists’ expectations, payrolls processor ADP reported Wednesday.

US job applicants

Just 156,000 people were hired by US companies last month, the smallest gain since April 2013, said the ADP National Employment Report. It was a significant drop from the March gains, which were revised down to 194,000 from 200,000. The number also fell far short of 196,000 jobs forecast by economists surveyed by Reuters. The ADP report is jointly developed with Moody’s Analytics.

While unofficial, the report gives a good indication of what to expect when the government releases its jobs report on Friday. With the US Federal Reserve Bank debating the timing of its next interest rate hike, a drop in the April jobs report could mean the economy is slowing and force the Fed to delay the increase.

In the Labor Department’s report, which includes public and private-sector employment, economists expect nonfarm payrolls to rise by 200,000 during the month, down from 215,000 in March.

“The job market appears to have stumbled in April. Job growth noticeably slowed, with some weakness across most sectors,” Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, told Reuters. “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.”

The ADP report said small businesses posted the largest gains, as employers with fewer than 50 employees added 93,000 workers. Medium-sized businesses with between 50 and 499 workers grew their payrolls by 39,000 and large companies added just 24,000.

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