Today's jobs report is unlikely to offer a ray of hope amid the gloom over the U.S. economy, as beyond the figures' volatility the trend for falling employment is quite clear, analysts said.
When data comes out at 8:30 am New York time, it will shed more light on how bad the situation has become, at a time when there are fewer and fewer weapons to fight recession.
"In this slowdown, we have barely had any decline in employment," ING Bank analyst Rob Carnell wrote in a market research note.
"The bulk of the real macro downturn could lie ahead of us – a pity for the Fed, with only 300 basis points of potential easing left in the barrel," Carnell added.
The forecasts vary wildly, with the market consensus put by Reuters at a rise of 25,000 in monthly nonfarm payrolls in February from January's surprise 17,000 drop.
Analysts in the Reuters poll predicted anywhere between a fall of 110,000 and a rise of 100,000, but only a very positive figure would cheer up investors.
January's weaker-than-expected data is likely to be revised but even so, "despite the notorious volatility in the monthly numbers, the trend is clearly downwards and we expect this to continue over this year," Bank of Scotland analysts wrote in a market note.
"We've started the week with minus 15,000 but the data forced us to revise it down," Daragh Maher, from Calyon, told "Worldwide Exchange" adding that he was now expecting a 40,000 fall in the payrolls number.
ING Bank analysts forecast that the payroll number will fall by 50,000, saying that the big discrepancy between January's strong ADP figure of +119,000 may lead to an upward revision of the nonfarm payroll figure.
"This will make it much easier for this month's payrolls to come in negatively," Carnell said.
Earlier this week, a report from ADP Employer Services showed U.S. private companies shed 23,000 jobs in February. Although the ADP report does not accurately predict the payroll number, the figure contributed to general pessimism about the labor market.
The unemployment figure, due to be released at the same time, is expected to rise to 5 percent, as firms have been reluctant to hire people due to the uncertainties hanging over the economy.