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Service sector grows at fastest pace in 5 years

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The service sector, which employs about 90 percent of the work force, expanded in February at the fastest pace in more than five years, offering the latest sign that hiring could accelerate this year.

The Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group, says its index of service-sector activity rose to 59.7 last month, from 59.4 in January. That’s the sixth straight monthly increase and the highest reading since August 2005. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

The index covers a broad range of industries including retail, health care and financial services, among others. It plummeted to 37.6 in November 2008, at the height of the financial crisis.

A measure of hiring by service-sector companies rose to its highest level since April 2006.