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Canada's closely watched Labour Force Survey always grabs headlines, even though its findings about the state of the job market ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. That will be true again this Friday, when Statistics Canada issues its monthly report for March.

It is, after all, a sample poll of households – not employers – standing in for the entire working-age population and attempting to sketch as full a picture as possible about the state of the labour market for men and women in different age groupings in both the public and private sectors across Canada. And all of it is based on whether the respondents were working or not in a single "reference week" in mid-month.

So it should come as no surprise that economy watchers put little stock in the volatile monthly ups and downs, even though that doesn't stop them from issuing forecasts about what to expect. For March, these range widely from a loss of 10,000 jobs all the way up to decent employment growth of 5,000 or more, as modest improvement in Central Canada offsets further declines in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

"Obviously, there are some signs that the Canadian economy is looking sluggish," said Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at CIBC World Markets. "But in any one month, that doesn't always translate into an outright decline in employment."

After a slight drop of 1,000 jobs in February, he expects a gain of about 5,000 for March.

"The same amount of money isn't cycling through the economy any more. That just adds to the pressure that we're already seeing," said Bank of Montreal senior economist Benjamin Reitzes, who resides at the gloomier end of the jobs spectrum.

He expects that March employment will be down by 10,000, after more cuts in the oil patch. The construction sector is also weakening and manufacturing has yet to turn into a job-creating replacement.

What matters more, though, are the trends the monthly surveys help to delineate.

"On a 12-month basis, it provides better information than in any given month by province or sector," Mr. Reitzes said. "Any individual month [in the survey] has very little useful information in it."

The signals so far point to deepening woes in the months ahead.

"The medium-term [takeaway] here is that over the next couple of quarters, growth is likely to be too slow to keep the unemployment rate from edging up," Mr. Shenfeld said.

The most notable – and anticipated – shift has seen Central Canada crawl ahead of the West in job creation since the oil industry began slashing capital spending in the face of falling prices. But predicted gains in the manufacturing sector, thanks to the U.S. economic recovery and a more competitive Canadian dollar, have not materialized.

Manufacturing "isn't expected to be a meaningful positive for employment until much later this year, if not in 2016, as the boost from a weaker loonie and better U.S. growth take time to have an impact," Mr. Reitzes noted.

"That's something we'll be watching," said Krishen Rangasamy, senior economist with National Bank Financial in Montreal. "What we'll be hoping for is some improvement in the private sector [in Quebec and Ontario]. It's been very, very disappointing in the last three months."

In fact, the labour force surveys show an average monthly loss of 9,000 private-sector jobs over the past three months, despite an average increase in job creation of about 8,000 a month in the same period. Government hiring accounts for the bulk of the growth, which is not a positive development.

Quebec's public sector has been particularly active in the job market, but this won't continue as the provincial government further tightens its belt.

Public sector jobs "are not the type you want in an economy. You need the private sector to be creating jobs to sustain growth, and you're not getting that at the moment," Mr. Rangasamy noted.

He suspects that Friday's report will show zero job growth for March.

April could turn out to be even nastier, as the full impact of the Target and Future Shop closings hits home and the damage spreads from the job losses in the resource sector.

Whether any of this shows up in the April job survey is anyone's guess.

When you're trying to do a poll that represents some 20 million people, the number of fired Target workers in the modest sample size might not be big enough to get picked up, Mr. Shenfeld said. "It might get lost in the shuffle."