2017-04-07 07:56:02
U.S. Jobs Report: What to Watch For

At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Friday, the Labor Department will report the latest figures on hiring and unemployment in March. Fairly or not, the data will be a measure of President Trump’s success in terms of job creation in the early days of his administration.

Wall Street is predicting that the economy gained 180,000 jobs last month. That suggests economists believe that hiring slowed down from its robust pace in February, when the economy also recorded healthy wage growth.

Unemployment is expected to remain unchanged at 4.7 percent.

Here are some key factors to watch:

The January and February jobs reports were better than expected, with well over 200,000 jobs added in each month. The robust numbers led some analysts to conclude that the economy is benefiting from a “Trump bump,” but hard data to support that has been scarce.

Last month, the president and Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, claimed credit for the job creation, saying it was a result of “the surge in economic confidence and optimism that has been inspired since his election.”

If March also turns out to be unexpectedly strong, it would buttress arguments that momentum has in fact picked up in 2017. It would also suggest that so-called soft data — like stronger sentiment among businesses — was actually translating into corporate decision-making.

After a warm February in many parts of the country, the weather turned much colder in March, with a mid-month blizzard on the East Coast. Some economists think the colder weather could skew the data downward, especially because the week in which the government surveyed households for the monthly report coincided with the storm. In addition, construction jobs could be weak, after a big jump in February.

At the same time, balmy February weather may have pulled forward hiring in the leisure and hospitality area, reducing job creation at restaurants in March.

After weakness last fall, factories have been gaining steam, with manufacturers expected to add 17,000 more jobs in March.

The sector accounts only for 9 percent of employment, but manufacturing punches above its weight because factory jobs pay considerably more than many service positions. Gains in this sector would also help Mr. Trump with his base, which liked his promises to erect trade barriers and promote blue-collar jobs.

If the forecast is right, expect the White House to claim credit. But for the moment, improving economies overseas, and the fading effects of the strong dollar, have much more to with the manufacturing sector’s revival than policies in Washington.

One of the biggest economic stories in recent months has been the shift of shoppers from brick-and-mortar stores to online rivals. Sears, Macy’s and J.C. Penney have announced plans to close hundreds of stores and lay off thousands of workers. Even brands like Ralph Lauren are pulling back.

Although those cuts will take time to show up in the jobs report, the troubles at traditional retailers are expected to also reduce hiring. After a gain of 40,000 jobs in January, then a loss of 26,000 in February, more losses in the retailing sector would confirm the downward trend.

The private sector is thought to have gained jobs last month, but the opposite is true for the public sector.

With the White House decision in January to freeze government hiring, along with attrition, experts estimate that federal employment dropped by more than 10,000 in March.

State and local hiring could offset some of that loss, but federal employment is shifting from a tailwind to a headwind for the overall economy.