The private sector added 176,000 jobs in August while weekly jobless claims continued their decline, indicative that the employment picture continues to notch slow but steady gains.
Weekly claims fell another 9,000 to 323,000, consistent with an improving climate that likely will do nothing to deter the Federal Reserve from its intention to begin a September pullback on its monthly asset purchasing program.
Market movement reflected misgivings over the withdrawal of central bank stimulus, as the positive data did not move equity futures off their flat level prior to the open.
The ADP number was just below expectations of 180,000 and below the July adjusted total of 198,000.
(Read more: US planned layoffs jump in August: Challenger)
The four-week moving average for claims fell to its lowest level since October 2007.
In terms of gains, almost all of the private jobs came from the service sector, which added 165,000 positions.
"Steady as she goes...right in the strike zone," Mark Zandi, economist at Moody's Analytics, which helps compile the numbers, told CNBC.
"It's remarkable how stable job growth has been in the last couple of years," he added. "Every industry is participating in this jobs recovery, so that's good news."
However, the gains have been concentrated in the service-related professions.
The other 11,000 new positions came from the goods-producing sector.
Economists sometimes use the ADP number to adjust their expectations for the monthly nonfarm payrolls report, which hits Friday at 8:30 am. Expectations are for 181,000 new jobs and a steady unemployment rate at 7.4 percent.
(Read more: Why Friday's jobs number is make or break)
Manufacturing added 5,000 positions while construction gained 4,000, ADP said. The largest total, 50,000, came from professional and business services, while 40,000 were in the trade, transportation and utilities sector.
Economists expected ADP to report private jobs growth of 180,000, while weekly jobless claims, which will be released at 8:30 am ET, likely edged lower by 1,000 to 330,000.
Medium-sized businesses, with between 50 and 499 employees, were the main growth engine with 74,000 new jobs, while small businesses created 71,000.
Claims move lower
Economists had expected only a slight decline from last week in terms of weekly jobless claims, but the picture was even better than expected.
The total from the previous week was adjusted slightly higher to 332,000.
The four-week moving average, which smooths fluctuations in the data, fell 3,000 to 328,500.
Both the ADP and weekly claims numbers will feed into the Fed's computations of when it wants to start easing the throttle on its $85 billion a month bond-buying program known asquantitative easing.
The U.S. central bank is expected to begin tapering its purchases in September.
The final number in the equation likely will be Friday's nonfarm payrolls report, expectations for which could be adjusted higher given Thursday's improving data.
A separate Labor Department report showed U.S. labor costs were flat in the second quarter, a sign of minimal inflationary pressures in the economy that could fan concerns inflation is too low.
The reading, which revised down an earlier estimate for the data, was well below the 0.8 percent gain analysts were forecasting in a Reuters poll.
At the same time, the report showed productivity rose 2.3 percent during the period, which was a bigger gain than expected and gave a more hopeful sign for the outlook for wages.
_ By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him @JeffCoxCNBCcom on Twitter. Reuters contributed to this report.