Small business hiring edges up in February: NFIB

WASHINGTON Thu Mar 7, 2013 1:19pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Small business employment edged up in February, adding to signs of an improvement in labor market conditions.

The National Federation of Independent Business said on Thursday the net change in employment ticked up to 0.1 employee per firm from 0.09 in January.

"Labor market indicators improved, suggesting that there will be modestly better job creation and unemployment numbers. A continued rebound in the labor intensive housing industry will help a lot," the NFIB said in a statement.

This comes on the heels of the ADP National Employment Report on Wednesday which showed the private sector added 198,000 jobs in February, beating economists' expectations for a gain of 170,000.

In addition, first-time applications for state unemployment benefits dropped substantially in February, though part of that was because of difficulties ironing out seasonal fluctuations.

The government is expected to report on Friday that employers added 160,000 jobs last month, according to a Reuters survey of economists, up slightly from 157,000 in January. The unemployment rate is seen steady at 7.9 percent.

The NFIB survey found that 10 percent of small business owners throughout the country added an average of 3.5 workers per firm over the past few months. About 12 percent of business owners reduced employment.

The share of business owners reporting hard-to-fill job openings rose three points to 21 percent. That suggests a modest improvement in the unemployment rate.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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