Some 1.98 million new online job ads were posted in February, down by 175,000, or 8.1 percent, from January, according to The Conference Board Help-Wanted OnLine Data Series.

Adjusting the number of ads for the size of the labor force, there were 1.33 online job ads per 100 persons in the U.S. labor force in February and 1.44 in January 2006. This was similar to August 2005 (1.43) and July 2005 (1.32).

“The labor market picture remains a bit cloudy,” said Ken Goldstein, labor economist with The Conference Board. “There are some bright spots where the job market may be picking up, but it’s by no means a clear picture. Based on the online activity and other labor-market indicators, it is hard to say that the job market is heating up. Consumers are growing increasingly concerned about the short-term health of the economy and their job prospects. In February, consumers’ expectations for the economy and the job market over the next six months were down significantly, according to The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index.”

The number of new unduplicated online job ads dipped in all nine Census regions in February compared to the January level. The largest declines were in the East South Central (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee) and East North Central (Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) regions, down 9.1 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively. The smallest dip was 7 percent in the West South Central region, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

“Looking at individual metropolitan areas, there are some bright spots, especially on the West Coast,” said Goldstein. In the first two months of 2006, San Jose, San Diego and Portland all posted new online ad volume that was above late-summer/early-fall levels.

Going across the country, other metropolitan areas showing relative strength in January-February include Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver.

“In the West South Central region, in addition to New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Austin and Dallas may be showing some strength. However, on the East Coast, Washington, D.C., is the only metropolitan area where this year’s online ad volume hints at any strength compared to last summer’s levels,” Goldstein noted.

Adjusting jobs ads for the size of the local labor force, San Diego with 3.17 job ads per 100 persons in the labor force leads the way among the 52 metropolitan areas for which data is published, followed closely by Denver (3.04), and San Francisco (3.01). The lowest number of online job ads per 100 persons in the labor force in February was in Detroit (0.68), followed by Rochester, N.Y. (0.87).

The Conference Board Help-Wanted Online Data Series measures the number of new, first-time online jobs posted on more than 1,200 major Internet job boards and smaller job boards that serve niche markets and smaller geographic areas.

***

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