The service sector grew more slowly in June, an industry trade group said Tuesday, offering the latest sign that the economic recovery is weakening as the second half of the year begins.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said its index tracking service-oriented companies slid to 53.8 last month from 55.4 in May, which had been the highest point since the recovery began.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion. June's reading is well above the 37.2 low in November 2008, but it's far below the pre-recession high of 67.7 in 2004.

The index was broadened in January 2008 to consider four areas of information: business activity, employment, supplier deliveries and new orders. Before that, it only looked at business activity.

A robust service sector, which accounts for about 80 percent of U.S. employment, is crucial to keeping the economy expanding and adding jobs. Service-oriented jobs include those in hospitals, shops, restaurants, airlines, schools, construction, banks and consulting firms, among others.

The dip in the nonmanufacturing index follows last week's raft of economic data that points to a slowing recovery. For the second straight month, private-sector job creation was weak. The number of people seeking unemployment benefits is on the rise, a sign that layoffs have yet to ebb. Home sales are plunging, and factory orders are down.

The decline in service-sector growth may force some economists to revise their expectations for growth in the second half of the year.

"Everyone is kind of pausing, looking at the landscape, not quite throwing in the towel yet," said Pierre Ellis of Decision Economics. The index's slowing growth in June is "the first sign of potential problems." He expects economic growth in the second half to slow to 2.5 percent. The economy grew 2.7 percent during the first quarter.

A troubling sign from the service-sector report is a decline in new orders, which signal future business. While still growing, they fell in June to their lowest level since December. The institute also said hiring plans dipped after growing in May. - AP

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