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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Small businesses continued to add workers in April and nearly one fifth reported job openings they could not fill, evidence on the eve of a key U.S. monthly employment report that the nation's labor market continues to gradually heal.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said on Thursday employment grew by 0.14 workers per firm last month, a bit slower than the pace in March but still the fifth straight month of gains.
The government's employment report is due on Friday and is expected to show 145,000 new jobs were created last month, staging a modest rebound from a disappointing reading of 88,000 in March. Unemployment is forecast to remain at a lofty 7.6 percent.
The NFIB also said 18 percent of business owners reported job openings that they could not match up with job seekers last month, the same level as in March.
The measure has a close inverse relationship with the unemployment rate and the NFIB said its failure to move higher suggests the unemployment rate will not fall, "unless, of course, more unemployed left the labor force."
A declining U.S. labor participation rate, as people without work get discouraged and give up the search for employment, is one reason the unemployment rate may fall even though the economy is only growing slowly and the job market remains weak.
Reporting By Alister Bull; Editing by Andrea Ricci