The U.S. economy stopped shedding jobs in December, ending two years of uninterrupted cuts, according to the most recent Reuters poll released on Thursday.
The median of forecasts in a Reuters poll of 84 economists called for the government's non-farm payrolls to remain unchanged from the previous month. The median in a Reuters poll conducted last week was for U.S. employers to have cut 8,000 jobs in December.
Estimates ranged from 80,000 jobs lost last month to a gain of 100,000 jobs.
The Labor Department will release the non-farm payrolls data on Friday at 8:30 a.m.
U.S. employers cut 11,000 jobs in November, according to government data released last month. Overall, 7.2 million jobs have been lost since December 2007 when the recession began, although the pace of layoffs has slowed sharply from early last year.
However, based on the 20 most accurate forecasters in Reuters polls since April, December payrolls are seen shrinking by 25,000 last month.
The unemployment rate is forecast to have risen to 10.1 percent in December from 10.0 percent in November, according to the poll, which was the same as last week's forecast. Unemployment recently peaked at 10.2 percent in October, which was the highest in over 26 years.
Economists have been rethinking their forecasts for the number of jobs lost last month in light of recent stronger-than-expected economic data, including numbers this week from the Institute for Supply Management showing the U.S. manufacturing sector grew for the fifth consecutive month in December.
Weekly jobless benefits claims data on Thursday also was taken as further evidence the jobs market was stabilizing, with the four-week moving average for new claims falling to the lowest since mid-September 2008.
It gives us greater confidence that tomorrow's non-farm number is going to be no worse than flat and probably positive, said Phil Orlando, chief equity strategist at Federated Investors in New York.
A recovery in the jobs market is seen as crucial to any overall return to economic health from the worst recession in 70 years.
(Reporting by Bangalore Polling Unit, Jayesh Nathwani; Additional reporting by Charles Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)