NEW YORK - Online job postings rose slightly in October, led by growth in health care and public companies, but the monthly employment gauge remained 20 percent below year-ago levels, a private research group said on Thursday.

Monster Worldwide Inc MNST.O, an online careers and recruiting firm, said its employment index rose to 120 points in October from 119 in September. The October reading is 20 percent below the 143 mark of a year ago.

While the decline in consumer confidence has likely contributed to reduced job demand in the retail and hospitality sectors, employers are actively recruiting in the health care and public sectors, resulting in stability of the overall index, said Jesse Harriott, a vice president at Monster.

The Monster report comes a day after ADP National Employment data showed the private sector shed 203,000 jobs in October, less than a revised 227,000 in September and the lowest since July 2008.

The data comes ahead of the U.S. Labor Department's release of weekly initial claims for jobless benefits due Thursday, expected at 523,000, down from 530,000 a week ago, according to separate Reuters polls of economists.

The Monster index registered increases in seven of 20 industries and 10 of 23 occupations in October.

Online job demand was higher in eight of nine U.S. census regions, with the Mid-Atlantic registering the largest increase.

The Monster Employment index is a monthly analysis based on a selection of corporate career sites and job boards. The margin of error is approximately plus or minus 1.05 percent. (Reporting by Ciara Linnane; Editing by Leslie Adler)