A key indicator that measures job offerings in major newspapers nationwide dropped two points in May, following a two-point drop in April, the Conference Board reported today.

The Help-Wanted Advertising Index now stands at 33, down from 35 in April and 38 one year ago.

In the last three months, help-wanted advertising declined in all nine U.S. regions. Steepest declines occurred in the West South Central (-19.5 percent), West North Central (-17.9 percent) and Pacific (-17.3 percent) regions.

“Businesses remain cautious about hiring when near-term economic prospects appear soft. They remain fundamentally worried about the expense of new hiring (in terms of wages, as well as health and pension benefits) relative to pricing power,” said Ken Goldstein, labor economist at The Conference Board. “With some evidence that retail inflation may be picking up, that concern may be alleviated. But consumers worry about price hikes outstripping their wage gains, and may limit their spending increases. Since the consumer represents two-thirds of the economy, that would fit in with the signal from The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index. This is certainly a more negative picture going into the second half of the year, compared to the beginning of the year.”

In the Conference Board’s Help-Wanted OnLine Data series, the number of new ads for online jobs in May increased slightly to 2.35 million. The May increase of 91,800 new ads was up 4 percent from April. In May, there were 1.57 online job ads per 100 persons in the U.S. labor force, compared with 1.51 in April 2006 and 1.6 in March.

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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