WASHINGTON Nov 3 (Reuters) - U.S. small businesses shed employees for a fifth straight month in October, but the pace of layoffs moderated, a survey showed on Thursday.
The National Federation of Independent Business said employment fell by an average of 0.1 per firm from 0.3 in September, according to its survey of 2,077 small businesses.
The persistently weak U.S. labor market has been in sharp focus as a key issue holding back the economic recovery.
The government will release its closely watched monthly payrolls report on Friday. Nonfarm payrolls increased 95,000 last month, according to a Reuters survey, after rising 103,000 in September.
Though the estimated gain in nonfarm employment is below the prior month's count, it is actually an improvement given that September payrolls were lifted by the return of 45,000 striking Verizon Communications workers.
The jobless rate is seen holding steady at 9.1 percent for a fourth straight month.
The NFIB survey showed 12 percent of small-business owners added an average of 3.2 workers over the past few months, while 11 percent reduced employment by an average of 3.6 workers, an improvement from September.
The remaining 77 percent of owners made no net change in employment, with just under a third reporting few or no qualified applicants for positions.
Over the next three months, about 9 percent of small-business owners plan to hire new workers, down 2 percentage points from September, while 12 percent intend to reduce their head count. That was unchanged from September.