companies add nearly quarter million jobsCompanies added more workers than forecast in December, indicating the job market was sustaining strength as 2014 drew to a close, according to a private report by ADP.

The 241,000 increase in employment was the biggest since June and followed a 227,000 November gain that was more than initially reported. Headcounts are growing as the U.S. economy strengthens, due in part by a pickup in household purchases.

The trade deficit has also narrowed more than forecast in November as U.S. petroleum imports sank to the lowest level in more than five years. The gap shrank 7.7 percent to $39 billion, the smallest since December 2013, from October’s $42.2 billion, as reported by the Commerce Department.

Goods-producing industries, which include manufacturers and builders, increased headcounts by 46,000 last month, the ADP report showed. Hiring in construction rose by 23,000, while factories added 26,000 jobs. Payrolls at service providers increased by 194,000.

Companies employing 500 or more workers rose by 66,000 jobs. Medium-sized businesses, with 50 to 499 employees, took on 70,000 workers and small companies increased payrolls by 106,000.

The outlook for the lowest earners also is improving. Voters approved ballot measures and legislatures enacted laws that allowed the minimum wage to rise in almost half of U.S. states on Jan. 1.

Monthly payroll gains averaged almost 241,000 from January through November, up from the prior year’s 194,000. The 2.7 million workers added to payrolls are the most since 1999. The unemployment rate is projected to fall to 5.7 percent, the lowest since 2008.

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