WASHINGTON — When the government reports Friday on job growth during April, it could help clarify an increasingly nagging question:

Just how strong is the U.S. economy?

The picture has grown hazier of late. Employers added only 126,000 jobs in March, ending a yearlong streak of monthly gains above 200,000. For April, economists predict a rebound to 222,500 added jobs.

Yet weaknesses have emerged in reports showing falling worker productivity, a slowdown in exports, modest consumer spending and sluggish overall economic expansion.

Over the past few years, the United States has served as a powerful engine for the world’s economy. But on Thursday, the International Monetary Fund predicted that Asian economies would lead global growth in 2015, in part because of recoveries in India and Japan.

Since the year began, the U.S. economy has sent signals of both potential strength and potentially debilitating weakness. Lower oil prices have forced cutbacks at energy companies and the manufacturers supplying them. The stronger dollar has squashed export growth and held down corporate profits. Worker pay, a chronic drag on U.S. growth, has yet to rise significantly for many.

Still, there are optimistic signs: Employers are shedding fewer and fewer workers, the government reported Thursday. Home sales surged in March.

Most economists have attributed the barely-there U.S. growth during the January-March quarter mainly to temporary factors: Nasty winter weather, the effects of cheaper oil and a since-resolved West Coast ports dispute. That theory will be tested by Friday’s jobs report. It could either cast the recent slowdown as merely a blip, or confirm that a powerful undertow has been depressing growth.

“If we do see that disappointing pace in April, that 100 percent negates the ‘It was weather’ argument,” said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee.

Even as the low growth numbers have stirred pessimism, other economists foresee a U.S. economy gaining speed. They see the 5.5 percent unemployment rate as beginning to force more employers to start boosting wages, helping to bolster consumer spending and growth.

“The economy is not in bad shape,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisers. “We’re finally switching to the point where its labor instead of management that has growing power in the job market.”