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2017-05-05 08:31:03
U.S. Jobs Report: What to Watch For

At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department will issue its report on hiring and unemployment in April.

After a disappointing initial estimate that just 98,000 jobs were added in March, analysts expressed confidence that better weather and a decline in initial unemployment claims would mean a rebound to 190,000 in April hiring. They said they also were expecting the unemployment rate to rise slightly to 4.6 percent from 4.5 percent and the average hourly wage to climb by 0.3 percent.

This is what to watch for:

Coming less than 48 hours after a meeting of the Federal Reserve in Washington, and six weeks before the next one, the April jobs report may have little immediate effect on economic policy. Fed policy makers made clear — with a unanimously endorsed statement — that the sluggish growth in the first quarter and even the anemic hiring in March had not undermined their confident economic outlook. They signaled that a rate increase was still on next month’s playlist. Still, a report of job growth under six figures for the second month in a row could alter that.

Business leaders continue to complain about a shortage of skilled workers, even though the broadest measure of unemployment — which includes people in part-time jobs because full-time positions were not available — remains much higher than the official rate. Better indicators of the labor market’s tightness at this point are wage growth and the labor force participation rate. “We’re certainly interested in the headline number,” said Michael Stull, a senior vice president at the staffing company Manpower North America, “but the other things we’re watching closely are labor participation and wages.”

“If we can see some gain in those, we’ll have some underlying strength in the marketplace,” he added.

Students graduating from college this season are facing their best job and wage prospects since the recession, according to a new report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. Still, there are weak pockets. Many graduates are in jobs below their skill levels. For example, the underemployment rate for young college graduates — those in jobs beneath their skills or working part time — was recently 11.9 percent, compared with 9.6 percent in 2007 and 7.1 percent in 2000.

This is the season for recruiters to be scouring colleges. Improvement in the employment figures for young people in April would be a sign that the job market for those with freshly printed diplomas is still improving. So would an increase in employment among young African-American and Latino job seekers, who traditionally experience much higher jobless rates.

The administration’s solidly pro-business agenda and promises to cut taxes, eliminate regulations and repair infrastructure have buoyed many executives, but dysfunction and divisions among Republicans have left some employers in a wait-and-see mode.

“Businesses want to hire and planned on hiring,” said Matthew Dolly, director of research at Transwestern, a national commercial real estate firm. “But until policies are ironed out, hiring will remain stagnant for a bit while that happens.”

Owners of small and medium-size businesses expressed optimism about the economy, despite a handful of weak economic indicators, said Cathy Barrera, an economics professor at Cornell University and the chief economic adviser for ZipRecruiter, an online job platform. But many employers have yet to act on their stated intentions to add workers. “The thing that stands out most,” Ms. Barrera said, is the “gap between that optimism and the follow-through on that optimism.”

A strong report would signal that the gap is starting to close.