Although the Conference Board Help-Wanted Advertising Index, a key measure of job offerings in major newspapers across America, rose one point in February to 39, it was still down from 41 one year ago, indicating the negative effect that low inflation has on the labor market.

In the last three months, help-wanted advertising increased in eight of the nine U.S. regions. Largest increases occurred in the West South Central (5.3 percent), West North Central (4.5 percent) and South Atlantic (4 percent) regions. The only decline occurred in the East South Central (-6.1 percent) region.

“Business is increasingly concerned about the impact of new hiring (in terms of wages, as well as health and pension benefits) in relation to corporate pricing power,” said Ken Goldstein, labor economist at The Conference Board. “The good news on the inflation front is actually a negative for business. It elevates the concern about rising costs, not offset by rising prices. That keeps hiring plans on the slow burner, as reflected in print advertising volume as well as in the other forward indicators of labor market activity.”

There were 1.98 million new online job ads posted in February, according to The Conference Board Help-Wanted OnLine Data Series. The February number represents a drop of 175,000 jobs (8.1 percent) from January, which was up sharply from December. January and February combined show that the average number of new online job ads for the first two months of 2006 is in line with the monthly levels in the late summer of 2005. 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 Conference Board surveys help-wanted print 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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