Companies added a seasonally adjusted 189,000 jobs last month, payroll processor ADP said Wednesday. That's down from gains of 214,000 in February.
The slowdown in hiring was largely concentrated among firms with more than 1,000 employees. They added just 12,000 jobs last month, compared to 43,000 in February.
The construction, financial and trade and transportation sectors all reported adding jobs at a slower pace in March than February.
Manufacturers shed 1,000 jobs in March, which likely reflects the twin drags of falling oil prices and a stronger dollar. Drilling rigs have stopped as oil prices have stayed near $50 a barrel, curbing demand for pipelines and machinery from factories. Simultaneously, the dollar has risen in value against the euro and other currencies, making American-made goods more expensive abroad and cutting into exports.
The figures come just before Friday's government report, which economists forecast will show an increase of 250,000 jobs.
The ADP numbers cover only private businesses and sometimes diverge from the government's more comprehensive report, which includes government agencies.
A burst of hiring in the past year has lifted the number of Americans earning paychecks, yet average hourly wages have risen at a sluggish 2 per cent pace.