Expect another disappointing jobs report

March 6, 2014: 11:20 AM ET

A slew of discouraging economic data doesn't bode well for February jobs numbers, but there's still hope for broader recovery.

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FORTUNE -- This winter has brought subfreezing temperatures and several feet of snow to much of the country, and the weather has done more than mess with your morning commute.

Cold weather also has a tendency to put a temporary damper on economic activity, as businesses often shut down during heavy snowstorms and consumers postpone big purchases until things warm up a bit.

That's one explanation, anyway, for the past two months of very disappointing job growth and an array of other worrisome economic data like Wednesday's ISM survey of non-manufacturing businesses, which showed employment contraction within the non-manufacturing sector for the first time in more than two years. Other data, like a sharp decline in housing starts in January, should also call into question the notion that a construction-industry recovery could help drive job growth in 2014.

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To top it off, payroll service firm ADP estimated that the private sector added just 139,000 jobs in January, while revising down its estimates for January and December by a total of 84,000 jobs. Put simply, there's not a lot of reason to believe the Labor Department will be bringing us good news Friday morning.

There is some hope, though. Economists have been eager to blame recent weakness in the economic data on the weather because two critical measures are still pointing toward an accelerating recovery: GDP growth and unemployment claims. Despite the fact that the Commerce Department revised down its estimate of fourth-quarter GDP, the economy grew at a healthy 3.25% clip in real terms in the second half of last year, the kind of growth that supports far more than the 94,000 new jobs we've averaged over the past two months.

The trend in jobless claims offers another case for optimism. Each week, the Labor Department releases estimates of the number of new workers who have applied for unemployment insurance. Thursday morning, the government announced that this figure had fallen sharply to 323,000, well below economists' expectations of 336,000. Jim O'Sullivan of High Frequency Economics wrote in a note to clients Thursday morning that this puts the four-week average for unemployment claims at 337,000, which "is down slightly from the 343K averaged in 2013, when payrolls gains averaged 194K per month."

Lower unemployment claims is a good indication that the job market is at least as healthy as it was in 2013. The chart below puts into context how much progress the job market has made by this measure:

US 4-Week Moving Average of Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance Chart

US 4-Week Moving Average of Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance data by YCharts

As long as the U.S. economy keeps making progress on the initial jobless claims front, there's reason to believe that the jobs recovery isn't slowing, even with a few months of discouraging data. With this data and the fact that jobs reports have wide margins of error, even a disappointing report Friday will not sway the Federal Reserve to change course on its plans to taper its stimulative bond-buying program.

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