WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. service companies grew at a faster pace in August than July and stepped up hiring, further evidence that the economy may be improving.

The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday that its index of non-manufacturing activity increased in August to 53.7, up from a July reading of 52.6. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

Service companies employ roughly 90 percent of the work force and include everything from retail and construction companies to health care and financial services firms. The service has now grown for 32 straight months.

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