The Conference Board’s Help-Wanted Advertising Index – a key barometer of America’s job market – edged up one point in January to 38, up from 37 the previous month. The index was 41 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 East South Central (14.3 percent), Mountain (9.3 percent), and East North Central (6.1 percent) regions.

“The economy continues to gain momentum in the first quarter, as indicated by the rise in the coincident economic indicator in January,” said Conference Board Economist Ken Goldstein. “And the leading economic indicators suggest the trend will carry into the second quarter of 2004. But consumers are starting to get a little more nervous about how much progress the labor market will make, as indicated by the widespread decline in consumer expectations in February. However, with want-ad volume inching higher through January, the signals are that labor market improvement is continuing to slowly develop.”

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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