The US lost 84,000 jobs in December, the smallest job loss in nearly two years, according to a private report.
Employment actually increased in the service sector for the first time since March 2008, according to seasonally adjusted numbers in the ADP National Employment Report (.pdf) released Wednesday. But the 12,000 new jobs couldn't offset the 96,000 positions lost in goods-producing industries.
The report, based on ADP's payroll data, is closely watched for hints of what the federal government will report when it releases official unemployment numbers Friday.
The ADP report's tone was positive: "Employment losses are now rapidly diminishing and, if recent trends continue, private employment will begin rising within the next few months."
Last month's government report suggested that the rapid improvement was already under way, with the economy losing only 11,000 jobs in November. But many economists expect that that low figure was an anomaly, which will be revised upward when the US Department of Labor releases its new figures on Friday.
The ADP report showed employment declining by 145,000 in November.