WASHINGTON – Private-sector employment climbed by 201,000 in March, according to Automatic Data Processing Inc.’s employment report released Wednesday, a preview of the more closely followed U.S. government data later this week.

The gain was roughly in line with economists’ forecasts.

In February, private payrolls rose by 208,000, down slightly from the initial estimate of a 217,000 increase.

The average monthly increase in employment over the past four months has been 211,000, consistent with a gradual decline in the unemployment rate. Economists estimate the economy has to add about 125,000 jobs a month to keep pace with population growth.

In the previous four months, the ADP gain averaged just 74,000.

“In short, there has been a clear and sustained acceleration in private-payroll gains,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

The ADP report does not include the government sector, where the outlook for jobs remains grim as cities and states struggle with budget deficits.

On Friday, the government will report on March nonfarm payrolls, which do include government workers. Economists polled by MarketWatch are looking for a gain of 192,000 and expect the nation’s unemployment rate to rise to 9.0 percent from 8.9 percent in February.

Many analysts are cautious about making too much of the ADP data. Although February’s ADP data came close to the overall payroll gain last month, ADP overestimated private-payroll gains in December and January and also has frequently underestimated the government’s report.