The U.S. economy declined by 23,000 private sector jobs in February, according to the latest monthly report by payroll processor ADP, the first decline the report has shown since 2003.

Despite the overall decline, ADP saw a gain of 15,000 jobs among small businesses with between one and 49 employees, but that was more than offset by a decrease of 4,000 jobs among midsized businesses with between 50 and 499 employees, and 34,000 jobs among large businesses with more than 499 employees.

The goods-producing sector saw a decline of 70,000 jobs overall, while the service-providing sector experienced an increase of 47,000 jobs. The manufacturing industry lost 40,000 jobs, and the construction industry lost 30,000 jobs.

"Employment in both those sectors has been declining for months," said Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, which conducted the survey with ADP. "There is some evidence now of slowing employment growth. In half of the last few months, the growth in small and medium-sized firms has been slow too. There has actually been a decline in medium-sized firms. For the first time since 2003, whether you slice it by industrial sector or by the size of company, there is evidence in the report of slowdowns in employment besides the sectors of the economy that have been hammered by the mortgage problem."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will be issuing its own unemployment report on Friday, which includes figures on public sector employment, and Prakken expects to see the figures more in line with ADP's. Last month, the ADP report showed a gain in employment while the BLS report showed a decline. ADP ended up revising down its numbers from last month slightly.

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