A waiter pours steamed milk at the Hudson Bay Cafe in Oakland, Calif.
A waiter pours steamed milk at the Hudson Bay Cafe in Oakland, Calif. - 
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JEREMY HOBSON: We are just under three hours away from the most important economic indicator of the month. The Labor Department's employment report for the month of January is expected to show job growth -- for the fourth month in a row. We'll also find out whether the nation's 9.4 percent unemployment rate went up or down last month. Economists will be watching for a lot of things, including whether the leisure and food service industries are still bright spots.

Marketplace's Scott Tong reports.

SCOTT TONG: 188,000 Americans have been hired to do food service the last two years. These are jobs pay $11 dollars an hour, on average. And the uptick makes sense to labor economist Harry Holzer at Georgetown. In the early days of a recovery, he figures many of us return to the restaurants and bars first -- relatively small-ticket stuff.

HARRY HOLZER: This is probably a place where consumers are starting to spend more freely than elsewhere. Consumers who are not quite ready to buy new car or home, probably are a little more comfortable going out to a restaurant or their retail establishment.

Employers these days are commitment-shy. But food and leisure workers make low-wages, they tend not get benefits, and are easier to hire and fire. Holzer expects better jobs to return eventually -- professional services, white-collar management, high-end manufacturing. But only when demand from consumers and businesses shoots up significantly.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott