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(Reuters) – Employment at small U.S. businesses was subdued in August, although fewer companies cut jobs than in the previous month, a survey showed on Thursday.

The National Federation of Independent Business’s monthly employment poll showed 11 percent of companies surveyed increased average employment by 2.3 employees. That was a modest rise from July’s 10 percent.

About 13 percent of respondents cut payrolls by an average of 3.5 workers, down from 15 percent in July. The rest made no changes to their labor force.

"Overall, the job creation picture is still bleak. The only source of new jobs in the private sector is new firms and maybe services," NFIB economist William Dunkelberg said.

About 874 NFIB member firms participated in the survey, which was released ahead of the government’s closely watched employment report for August, due on Friday.

For the government’s non-farm payrolls report, according to a Reuters survey, private sector payrolls increased by 41,000 in August, much fewer than the 71,000 jobs added in July. Overall employment is expected to have declined by 100,000 after falling 131,000 in July.

The NFIB survey also showed unfilled openings rose a point to 11 percent, suggesting little change in the unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate is expected to ticked up to 9.6 percent in August from 9.5 percent in July, the Reuters survey predicted.

(Reporting by Melissa Bland, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)