New York CNN Business  — 

Friday’s jobs report will shed some light on whether August’s disappointing numbers were just a blip — or the start of an unwelcome trend. Either way, the recovery could be bumpy until America gets all the way through the Covid crisis.

“The pandemic has always been in the driver’s seat of this recovery,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at ADP, during a call with reporters Wednesday. “The name of the jobs recovery game is still ‘uneven’.”

Last year, the labor market was quite fragile, and during the colder months, the battered leisure and hospitality industry lost jobs — something that could happen again this year. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of women left the labor force in September 2020 as children returned to virtual classrooms and parents had to step in as teaching assistants.

Whether either of these phenomena return remains to be seen.

Economists polled by Refinitiv predict half a million jobs were added to the economy last month, revised up from previous estimates of 473,000 additional jobs. The unemployment rate is expected to tick down to 5.1%, just a hair below the August rate of 5.2%.

That would be more than double the disappointing 235,000 jobs that were added in the August report, which underperformed expectations by about half a million.

The ADP Employment Report, a different count of private-sector jobs, showed 568,000 positions added in September, more than economists had expected. The ADP numbers and the government’s official tally aren’t correlated, but last month both reports sharply underperformed forecasts.

Even if September is better than expected for jobs, the recovery continues down its rocky road.

Widespread worker shortages have been a big asterisk on the recovery, as concerns such as child care, virus exposure and some workers waiting for better job opportunities, kept people at home.

“While jobs improved from August … initial claims for unemployment insurance have pushed higher in recent weeks,” Richardson said. “Leisure and hospitality was the fastest growing industry again. … However, businesses are still struggling to find workers.”

Last week, 326,000 Americans filed claims for unemployment benefits, adjusted for seasonal swings. It was fewer than economists had predicted, as well as a decrease from the week before. That said, the weekly benefit claims are still above their September 4 pandemic-era low.

Without the seasonal adjustments, 258,909 claims were filed last week.

The government’s enhanced unemployment benefits expired at the start of September. Economists are undecided as to how much the generous pandemic benefits contributed to the worker shortage. Friday’s report might offer some evidence one way or the other.

“The report will most likely reflect a mix of constraints in hiring related to Hurricane Ida and the reopening of schools and day care centers, as well as seasonal adjustments inside the education sector that may dampen the top-line estimate,” RSM Chief Economist Joe Brusuelas said in a note.

The Federal Reserve will be watching Friday’s data closely. The central bank has provided guidance that it will soon roll back its huge pandemic stimulus program. Some of the central bank’s policymakers still want to see more progress in the labor market, but Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last month that he didn’t need to see a “knock-out” report.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the September jobs report at 8:30 am ET on Friday.