The Conference Board’s Help-Wanted Advertising Index – a key barometer of America’s job market – dipped one point in March to 39, down from 40 the previous month. The index was 39 one year ago.

In the last three months, help-wanted advertising increased in six of the nine U.S. regions. The largest increases occurred in the Middle Atlantic (19 percent), Mountain (14.7 percent) and New England (12.5 percent) regions.

“The national labor market was improving in the first quarter of 2004, although slowly,” said Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein. “Even though want-ad volume dipped slightly in March, the overall direction remains positive, and so should job growth over the near term. The Conference Board’s Coincident Economic Indicator, an important measure of current economic growth, remained on a rising trend through March. And the Leading Economic Indicators suggest it could carry into the third quarter.”

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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