Here comes the jobs report...

warehouse workerScott Olson/Getty Images

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics is set to release the February employment report at 8:30 a.m. Friday.
  • The economy is expected to have added 180,000 jobs last month.
  • That's a slowdown from blockbuster growth in December and January.

Offering the latest snapshot of the American economy, the official employment report out Friday is expected to show hiring cooled but still accelerated at a healthy pace in February and that wage growth picked up.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal forecast the Bureau of Labor Statistics will say the US economy added 180,000 jobs in February, an expected slowdown after a blockbuster couple months of hiring.

"We're not going to be able to create that many jobs month in and month out," said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody's. "I think we're going to see things begin to settle down in February and throughout the rest of this year."

The unemployment rate is expected to fall to 3.9% after edging higher during the partial government shutdown that ended in January, which kept nine of 15 cabinet-level departments shuttered for five weeks to make it the longest on record.

Once a stubborn spot in the labor market, wage gains have picked up over the past year and are expected to continue to climb. Average hourly earnings are expected to rise by 0.3 percentage points, marking a 3.3% increase from a year earlier.

Economists will be watching to see whether the labor market continued to pull Americans from the sidelines in February. The labor-force participation rate edged up to its highest level since 2013 a month earlier at 63.2%, but is still low by historical standards and compared with other countries.

January's payroll increase of 304,000 could be revised downward as it may have counted some furloughed workers twice, overshooting hiring estimates. Growth is widely expected to slow over the next two years in the US and other major economies.

"It is important to note that employment is a lagging indicator and forward-looking investors and firm managers should anticipate a slowing of hiring in coming months linked to slower growth," said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM, an international consulting firm.

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