The Labor Department is scheduled to release its monthly gauge of the American labor market on Friday morning. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect only small improvements, estimating a gain of 182,000 jobs and no change in the unemployment rate at 6.3 percent.
Roughly 10 million fewer jobs exist today than a year ago, and the January report showed a gain of only 49,000. While economists have offered increasingly optimistic forecasts for growth later in the year, millions of workers are still relying on unemployment benefits and other government assistance. First-time jobless claims also rose last week.
Federal Reserve and top administration officials have emphasized that the Labor Department’s figures understate the extent of the damage. More than four million people have quit the labor force in the last year, including those sidelined because of child care and other family responsibilities or health concerns. They are not included in the official jobless count.
To carry struggling households and businesses through the coming months, Congress is considering a $1.9 trillion package of pandemic relief.
In recent weeks, recruiting sites have had an increase in job postings, but demand remains lopsided. The warehouse, transportation, health care, finance and professional services sectors have shown particular strength. But the parts of the economy hit hardest by the pandemic, like restaurants, travel, salons and entertainment, are still floundering.
The February report is also expected to show a decline in state and local government payrolls.
“The dominant driver of the labor market right now is the Covid situation and the status of reopenings,” said Robert Rosener, a senior U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley.
He added that unusually harsh weather, particularly in the first half of February, right before the government conducted its surveys, could also have depressed hiring last month.