The number of people working in the United States likely fell in February as winter storms that pounded parts of the country kept some workers at home but a swift recovery is expected in March.
A government report on Friday is forecast to show payrolls dropped 50,000 after slipping 20,000 in January, according to a Reuters poll of economists.
Some analysts warned losses could be as high as 150,000 and said it was hard to gauge the impact of the heavy snowstorms that hit large areas of the United States during the survey week for the employment report.
Workers who stayed at home due to the bad weather and were not paid as a result during the survey period fall off the Labor Department's payroll count.
We shouldn't read too much into February report. We will see a rebound in March, payrolls should increase by the number of people who were temporarily not working, said Harm Bandholz, an economist at UniCredit Research in New York.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has cautioned against over-interpreting February's data and financial markets are likely to place less importance on Friday's jobs numbers, usually the most watched figures on the U.S. economy.
The median forecast from the 20 most accurate forecasters in the Reuters poll saw payrolls falling by 50,000 in February -- the same as the broader forecast -- while the 10 most accurate economists predict a decline of 70,000.
The unemployment rate, which is drawn from a separate government survey of households, is expected to rise to 9.8 percent after a surprise drop to 9.7 percent in January.
The jobless rate should largely be unaffected by the bad weather since the household survey counts people who say they have jobs as employed, irrespective of whether they went to work during the survey period.
Unemployment is one of the toughest challenges facing President Barack Obama, whose approval ratings have dropped.
Obama and fellow Democrats worry voters could punish them in November congressional elections if more progress is not made in putting Americans back to work as the economy emerges from its worst downturn since the 1930s.
Since the start of the recession, 8.4 million jobs have been lost. While the economy added jobs in November for the first time since the recession began nearly two years ago, it lapsed back into losses in recent months.
Analysts, however, see glimmers of hope on the horizon, although their prediction of more job growth as early as March is driven largely by government hiring for the 2010 census.
The labor market is slowly moving in the right direction. We see a resumption of job growth likely in March or April, particularly supported by the census hiring, said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody's Economy.com in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Job growth is crucial for the sustainability of the economic recovery that started in the second half of 2009.
Analysts worry that tepid consumer spending could result in the economy's growth sputtering when the impact of government stimulus and the rebuilding of inventories by businesses fades later this year.
The labor market is key to a sustainable recovery. We really need to see underlying income growth sustained, consumer spending relatively spread across the breath of the economy. Without it, it is very difficult to have a substantial, prolonged expansion, said Zach Pandl, an economist at Nomura Securities in New York.
Even though job growth is seen in the months ahead, the unemployment rate is expected to continue rising as the improving labor market picture lures people who had given up the search for jobs back into the labor force.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Diane Craft)