As has been the case throughout the labor recovery, services created by far the bulk of the growth, with 160,000 new positions added. Professional services declined sharply, adding just 49,000 jobs after averaging 65,000 over the past two months.
Manufacturing jobs, meanwhile, fell by 12,000 though construction added 25,000.
Small businesses also led the way, with 75,000 jobs, though that was the lowest figure since August. Large firms, with more than 500 employees, added just 34,000 positions.
While economists often use the ADP report as a benchmark for compiling their estimates for the monthly nonfarm payrolls report, this month's report is unlikely to move the needle. Economists expect the report, to be released Friday, to show the economy added 180,000 positions in January, after a lackluster 74,000 in December.
That December count is likely to be revised significantly higher, said Zandi, who predicted it could surge by another 100,000 by the time the counting is through.
Stock market futures, already indicating a lower start for Wall Street, came under more pressure after the ADP letdown.
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—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him on Twitter