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Small Business Hiring Edges Up In February

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(Reuters) - Hiring at small U.S. businesses edged higher in February as the number of firms laying off workers fell to its lowest since 2007, although companies scaled back plans to hire workers, a poll showed on Friday.

The National Federation of Independent Business said companies in its survey added an average 0.04 jobs last month. In January the reading was flat.

The NFIB's reading on layoffs was in line with recent reports from the U.S. Labor Department, which have shown the number of workers lining up for jobless benefits has been falling and is near a 4-year low.

Nine percent of firms added jobs, one of the highest levels since 2007, the NFIB said.

But weighing on the outlook for the jobs market, the net percent of business owners planning to hire workers fell 9 percentage points, seasonally adjusted, to minus 9 percent, its fourth straight monthly decline.

The U.S. Labor Department is scheduled to release its February employment report on March 9. Economists polled by Reuters expect it will show a 210,000 increase in nonfarm payrolls, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 8.3 percent.

The NFIB poll was based on responses from 642 firms surveyed through February 28.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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