The Conference Board’s Help-Wanted Advertising Index – a key barometer of America’s job market – dipped 1 point in December to 38, down from 39 the previous month. The index was 39 one year ago.

In the last three months, help-wanted advertising increased in seven of the nine U.S. regions. The largest increases occurred in the New England (13.8 percent), East North Central (9.6 percent), and West North Central (6.8 percent) regions.

“The economy continued to build up momentum in the fourth quarter, with the leading economic indicators suggesting the trend would carry into the first quarter of 2004,” said Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein. “Consumers remain optimistic about near-term economic prospects, and about job growth. With want-ad volume starting to rise nationally, consumers are unlikely to be disappointed. Business nervousness, especially about the lack of pricing, remains an issue – as evidenced in the latest readings on orders for durable goods, which were unchanged in December. Business executives continue to express caution about investing, as well as new hiring. This is the hurdle the building economic momentum has to jump over.”

The Conference Board surveys help-wanted advertising volume in 51 major newspapers across the country every month. Because ad volume has proven to be sensitive to labor market conditions, this measure provides a gauge of change in the local, regional and national supply of jobs.

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