New York City A report released Tuesday by The Institute for Supply Management found that the U.S. service sector, the nation's predominant employer, expanded in September for a ninth straight month, growing to 53.2 from 51.5 in August.
The growth, said the organization, still has not been consistent enough to dent the high unemployment rate.
The rate hit a high point of 55.4 in March, stayed there in April and May, and has fluctuated since. Readings above 50 signal growth.
Weak consumer spending has kept the service industry, which includes retail and employs about 83% of workers in the private sector, from gaining momentum after the recession ended. Tuesday's reading was better than economists expected.
The survey polls about 350 companies in 18 industries, including health care, retail, utilities, education, financial services and shipping. In September, eleven of the industries reported growth. They were led by business management and administrative services, industries that provide information, and professional and scientific services. Three industries shrank and four had the same pace of activity.
And, a measure of how willing employers are to fill vacant positions showed slim growth in September after a pullback in August. Still, that improvement, to 50.2 from 48.2, leaves the measure stuck in the same range it has been for months. It does not suggest employers are ready to hire enough to bring down the employment rate.