What's more, the rate can rise or fall for reasons that have little to do with hiring. Sometimes, as in recent months, the jobless rate has been nudged down by a large number of people dropping out of the job market. Only workers who are actively looking for jobs are counted as unemployed.
The headline employment numbers also don't say anything about the quality of jobs added or lost. And this year, the unusually mild winter weather has made the monthly changes even harder to interpret.
Bernstein, the former administration economist who is now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, thinks the job-creation number will be closer to 130,000, though he knows all too well that forecasting is sometimes a risky business.
In early 2009, Bernstein and others on Obama's economic team forecast that the president's $800-billion stimulus package would hold the jobless rate to 8%. But by October that year, the rate had climbed to 10% — something that Republicans delight in pointing out.
The 8% prediction was a big political mistake, Holzer said, but he noted that "people should be careful in assigning credit or blame" when it comes to the jobless data.
Then again, when Holzer was in the Clinton administration in 1999 and the unemployment rate hovered around 4%, "We in the administration took credit for that," he said.