Friday is March jobs day, and the big question is whether the labor market last month repeated the all-around fantastic performance it had in January. Yet another gangbusters month could be a sign that the job market is once and for all shaking off its sluggishness. The consensus estimates are that payrolls grew by 230,000 in February, with unemployment slipping slightly to 5.6 percent, according to Bloomberg. Here are a few more big things to watch for in the jobs report:
Wages — Wages have become the indicator to watch during jobs day. Higher pay is a surefire sign that slack in the labor market is diminishing, as employers have to pay more to get and keep good workers. We have some other signs that wages are picking up, most notably at Walmart and TJ Maxx. And in January, the average wage picked up by its biggest interval since 2008. If that keeps growing, it suggests that January wasn't just a blip.
Unhappy part-time workers — The number of workers working part-time involuntarily (that is, they're part-time but would rather have more hours) is still remarkably high. Currently, there are around 6.8 million. That's much better than a few years ago but still around 2.5 million higher than just prior to the recession. If this keeps coming down, it's a sign that underemployment — not just unemployment — is coming down and that the job market is substantially improving as people fine more work.
Labor force participation — The "labor force" includes working-age people who are either working or looking for work. As the economy improves, people who had previously stopped looking for work might become more optimistic and start looking again. That shows up in the data as an increase in the unemployment rate, but it's actually a sign that the economy is improving. For example, the unemployment rate ticked up in January from 5.6 to 5.7 percent. But that wasn't such a bad thing, because labor force participation also grew from 62.7 to 62.9 percent. Further increases in labor force participation would be a sign that more workers are being enticed into the labor market.