Economists expect a government report Friday to show strong job growth last month after adverse weather held down payroll gains most of the winter.
Many forecasts anticipate the Labor Department will report the most monthly job gains since November.
Many Americans who stayed home because of cold and stormy weather from December through February were likely back on the job in March, and employers who put off hiring should have brought on new employees, economists say.
A report Wednesday from payroll processor ADP showed businesses added 191,000 jobs last month, the highest since November, fueling hopes for strong gains in the Labor Department's survey.
ADP has had mixed success foreshadowing Labor's more closely watched tally, and from December through February, it initially overestimated Labor's reported private-sector job gains by an average 21,000 a month.
Yet, that's likely because ADP's report is not as sensitive to weather as Labor's because it counts workers on payrolls even if they stayed home because of snow and weren't paid, says Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist of High Frequency Economics.
As a result, O'Sullivan is among economists who expect the Labor survey to show a sharper rebound in March. Employers — including businesses and federal, state and local governments — added an average 129,000 jobs from December through February, down from 225,000 the previous three months, Labor figures show.
"We are probably due for payback," O'Sullivan says. Economists surveyed by Action Economics expect Friday's Labor report to show 195,000 job gains. O'Sullivan is looking for 230,000.
Yet, a disappointing job number doesn't necessarily mean an economy that's been expected to accelerate this year is sputtering again. This week's report on manufacturing activity in March showed a modest improvement from the previous month but also reflected some impact from the cold and snow.
"I don't know if March is the month we'll see (the catch-up in job gains)," says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, which helps ADP compile its report. He says the bulk of the make-up effect could come in April and May.
Still, the ADP report showed other positive signs that could point to a healthier labor market in coming months. It indicated job gains were broad-based among small, midsize and large businesses. More regions of the country are also benefiting from solid payroll increases, Zandi says.
"Slowly but steadily, the jobs recovery is expanding out," he says. "That's key to the economy jumping into a higher gear."