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Economic Report: U.S. businesses shed 301,000 jobs in January, ADP says, in biggest drop since start of pandemic

The numbers: Privately run U.S. businesses reduced employment by 301,000 jobs in January –- the worst reading since the start of the pandemic— as a record omicron wave kept people out of work and delayed hiring plans. 

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 200,000 gain.

ADP sometimes acts as a preview for the U.S. Labor Department’s broader employment survey that comes out a few days later. Yet the two reports have often been at odds during the pandemic and ADP has been less reliable as a bellwether.

Still, economists predict a weak increase in the official employment report on Friday owing to the omicron disruptions. Wall Street predicts just 150,000 new jobs were created in January and some economists expect an outright decline.

Big picture: Businesses are eager to fill a record number of open jobs and keep up with strong demand for their goods and services. There are almost 11 million job openings in the U.S., a government survey shows.

The problem is finding enough people to fill all the empty positions. Several million workers who left the labor force early in the pandemic have not returned and many may never do so. Frequent coronavirus outbreaks have also made it harder for some people such as women or caregivers to return to work.

Market reaction: U.S. stocks DJIA, +0.78% SPX, +0.69% were set to open higher in Wednesday trades.

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