RBS economist Omair Sharif said his firm expects job growth of 240,000 in March. "We were thinking weather added 50,000 to 75,000. People are factoring in at least 125,000 census," he said.
Economists said the census workers will peak in May but start to go away and become a negative number in June. They are using the experience of the survey in the year 2000 to estimate the payrolls impact.
Citigroup economists said they did not publish a March payrolls forecast yet, but they provided their expectations for census hiring. In March, they expect 131,000 census jobs and 109,000 in April.
They expect hirings to peak at 500,000 in May, but the census contribution turns to negative 107,000 in June. July is basically flat, but there are larger negative numbers in August and September for a total loss of more than 600,000 in those two months.
"The BLS is doing a good job of telling us how many jobs are being created. We'll all strip it out pretty fast. The investors will be focused on the net after census," said Zandi.
February's job losses amounted to 36,000, less than expected, and the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent. The census contributed 39,000 jobs in February.
Weekly jobless claims last week fell by 5,000 to 462,000, but hang stubbornly in the mid to upper 400,000 range. The four-week average fell by 4,250 to 471,250, still 5.8 percent higher than the end of 2009.
"At this point, the claims, both initial and emergency and extended benefits are still very elevated with no sign of coming down," said Zandi. But he said the March report is important even if not as robust as some expect.
"I think this is the first real month of job growth, and that's notable," he said. "The policy makers are all talking about it...The next few months will be strong. March, April, and May will be very strong. June will be the first soft month, and July, August and September will be the test.
Deutsche Bank's chief U.S. economist Joseph LaVorgna has the high estimate on the street currently, and he thinks the weather could have resulted in 150,000 to 160,000 workers in March, and the census was responsible for 70,000. "We're going to know immediately what the census affect was," he said, adding it will be apparent in the employment report.
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