Updated from March 31Stock and bond traders' fixation with the labor market reaches crescendo Friday when the government releases its March employment report at 8:30 a.m. EST. While the number is always huge for markets, this month's reading carries on its shoulders the weight of several different worlds, including the political, where President Bush is counting on a jobs recovery to lift him to victory in November. "If we don't get jobs this month, Bush will hire some new people for the Bureau of Labor Statistics," said Russell Sheldon, managing director of economic research at BMO Nesbitt Burns. "He needs them now to take this issue off the calendar. It's too reminiscent of this father's situation, where in fact things were getting better and we didn't know it at the time." Anecdotal evidence built over the week in favor of what is now economists' third-straight bullish forecast on a monthly employment report. But with the prognosticators' haplessness in January and February fresh in their minds, investors withheld their euphoria. In perhaps the most persuasive evidence to date that economists aren't completely out to sea, the employment index of the Institute for Supply Management's factory gauge shot up to 57 Thursday, its highest level since December 1987. The number came 90 minutes after the Labor Department report a small decline in weekly applications for jobless benefits. The market's reaction was muted, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average adding just 16 points to close at 10,373, as twice-burned investors recalled their recent wounds and shied away from fresh trades. How bad has it been in 2004? Last month, economists muffed the February employment report by a factor of six, predicting nonfarm payroll growth of 130,000 ahead of a print that showed only plus 21,000. Within three sessions, the Dow had shed 460 points. A month earlier, with estimates running around 165,000, the Labor Department announced Feb. 6 that payrolls grew by 112,000. The miss came just before the Dow topped out for the year at 10,731, formally ending a year-old bull market and setting a top from which stocks have been falling ever since. In both cases, pain was magnified by a whisper number that was tens of thousands of jobs higher -- gross mistakes attributable as much to human optimism as to the Street's occasionally blind faith in the sitting administration. So it should come as no surprise that Wall Street's economic gurus are again predicting a sunny March employment report this Friday. The consensus estimate is for payroll growth of 123,000 jobs during the month, enough to hold the unemployment rate at 5.6%. Whisper numbers are twice that. As in the past, the mood on Wall Street has brightened in the run-up to the Labor Department release, and many obviously believe the pundits are right this time. The Dow rallied more than 100 points both last Thursday and again Monday as faith in the grim science grew. Other evidence has accrued to the bulls' case over the last few days, including a survey by Monster Worldwide ( MSTR) showing online recruitment steadily rose during the first quarter. One of the biggest bulls is Wachovia Securities senior economist Mark Vitner, who is forecasting a net gain of 225,000 jobs in March. Even better, Vitner expects job growth to accelerate as the year goes on. "The monthly figures should be above 200,000 for the foreseeable future," said Vitner, who called February's weak numbers an "aberration." Vitner points to a number of trends as justification for his rosy outlook, such as the surge in corporate profits, a recent rise in help-wanted advertisements and a Manpower ( MAN) survey that found employers say they will do more hiring in the second quarter. But talking about hiring doesn't mean you're doing it.