The Conference Board’s help-wanted advertising index, a key barometer of America’s job market, increased two points in December. The index now stands at 38, the same level as one year ago.

In the last three months, help-wanted advertising increased in seven of the nine regions across the U.S. Largest increases occurred in the South Atlantic (14.1 percent), West North Central (12.6 percent) and West South Central (12.4 percent) regions.

“After remaining flat through much of 2004, the measure of labor demand edged a little higher in December. There was also a brief respite from layoffs as indicated by the data for initial jobless claims,” said Conference Board Economist Ken Goldstein. “In both cases, there have been occasional improvements over the year, but each instance proved short-lived. The question is whether the labor market is starting to turn the corner or if this is another brief respite. There are reasons to believe this could be more than just another brief spike in activity. It can be argued that consumers believe the labor market will start to improve in the next few months. The leading economic indicators are pointing in the same direction.”

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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