Job seekers attend a career fair in New York City. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the quick drop in unemployment might have been a reversal of overzealous cutbacks during the financial crisis. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
The monthly employment report Friday could help answer a key question about the economy: Will the recently strong job growth slow once employers finish replacing the people they fired during the depths of the recession?
Over the past three months, job growth has averaged close to 250,000 a month. There are some signs that strong growth could continue. For instance, first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week fell to 357,000 — their lowest level in four years. When the number is consistently below 375,000, as it has been for months, it's a sign job growth is strong enough to bring down the unemployment rate.
But the consensus from a number of surveys of economists done by news organizations is that job growth was a little slower in March. The estimate is that about 200,000 net new jobs were created. That's in line with the private-job growth estimate reported by the payroll processing firm ADP earlier this week.
Will Job Growth Ease As Economy Slows?
That expected slowdown in job growth would go along with a slowdown in overall economic growth that economists have predicted. At the end of 2011, the economy was growing at a 3 percent annual rate. The view is that growth in the first part of this year is running closer to 2 percent to 2.5 percent, meaning job growth might be a little slower, too.