US markets and politicians are bracing for more bad economic news when the government releases July data on unemployment and job creation early Friday.
With worries about a possible new recession partly behind Thursday's devastating rout on stock markets, the much-awaited monthly jobs data release at 1230 GMT is expected to set the economic mood for the second half of the year.
Many economists -- though not all -- are expecting gloomy numbers, after weeks of other data have pointed to an almost stalled economy in June and July.
On average, analysts are bracing for the unemployment rate to remain stuck at 9.2 percent, and that only a net 84,000 jobs will have been created in July.
Such figures would be an improvement over just 18,000 new generated positions in June and 25,000 in May.
But that remains well below the estimated 100,000 needed just to accommodate new entrants to the workforce -- to meet the growing population -- much less to cut the overall official number of 14.1 million Americans without jobs.
Global markets were closely watching the US jobs data, with both Asian and European stocks plummeting Friday a day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its worst one-day drop since December 2008, shaking already brittle investor confidence.
Economic data released in recent weeks mostly point to the US economy having stagnated over the past two months, and suggest businesses have been reticent to hire while the government was locked in a political battle over long-term economic policy and the debt ceiling.
Meanwhile, under pressure to trim their budget deficits, government authorities at all levels -- federal, state and local -- have been cutting staff.
But with expectations now very low, a bit of less-than-dire data released Thursday on new claims for unemployment insurance supplied fodder for both the optimists and pessimists.
Jobless claims for the week to July 30 were 400,000, still high by most standards, but also suggesting a downtrend for the second week in a row.
"It may be too soon to read much into these initial claims data," RDQ Economics cautioned.
But if the trend is maintained through August, "that would be an encouraging sign that job creation may have improved from the very disappointing pace reported during the second quarter," it added.
Taking the other view was economist Joseph LaVorgna of Deutsche Bank.
"We doubt that this morning's data are going to change investors’ perceptions of the economic environment unless the numbers were to surprise meaningfully to the upside," he said.
"Unfortunately, there is little reason to anticipate such an outcome."
Deutsche Bank is forecasting just a 50,000 increase in payrolls -- 75,000 from the private sector offset by 25,000 in public sector cuts.
The optimists also point to private payrolls firm ADP, whose data released earlier this week showed that private companies created a net 114,000 jobs in June, double the government's first estimate released on July 8.
Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, said the ADP number "certainly supports our contention that Friday will see either a decent increase, or a hefty upward revision to June, or both" for private sector hiring.
HFE is forecasting a rise of 130,000 private jobs, offset by 30,000 public sector employee layoffs, for a net July gain of 100,000 jobs.
Hiring overall has been weak for the past quarter, as economic growth dropped off to an annual rate of around one percent.
Consumer spending, a key driver of the economy, did not grow at all in the second quarter, and companies, though cash-rich, remained hesitant to grow their workforces.
Data from the Institute for Supply Management early this week suggested the malaise continued through July. ISM's survey of the manufacturing sector pointed to no growth at all during the month, while its service sector index was only marginally better, and showing growth at a crawl and slowing.