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Why all eyes are on the April jobs report

With the final week of April providing data that showed the U.S. economy in a virtual stall in the first quarter, economists are now looking to next week's monthly jobs report for clues to where the recovery is headed.

The March addition of 126,000 to U.S. payrolls will likely be followed by a gain of about 230,000, which would "hopefully banish fears that somehow the economy and the recovery is in trouble," Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, told CBS MoneyWatch.

Bolstering those fears was data Wednesday that had GDP expanding at only a 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted annualized rate in the first quarter. The disappointing start to the year was worse than estimated.

"We've had a round of weaker data. Looking forward, I would expect a return to seasonally norms, and a hopefully pretty robust rebound," said Ashworth.

Not surprisingly, views differ as to whether the first-quarter slowdown will be followed by a bounce-back in subsequent quarters, a scenario seen in 2014 and 2013.

The first-quarter numbers were "a big step in the wrong direction," said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee, who estimates an April gain of about 200,000 jobs and expects "less of a rebound" in coming quarters.

The Federal Reserve and many economists peg transitory factors, including the weather, for the near-nil economic growth in 2015's first three months, but Piegza is doubtful: "There is a general malaise in the economy. You can't attribute all of it to unseasonably cold weather."

Ashworth, however, says the conditions went beyond colder than normal. "The whole Northeast region had its coldest winter in 121 years. That's not one city -- that's where 20 percent of the population lives."

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