A key indicator that measures job offerings in major U.S. newspapers rose four points in December and could signal a stronger labor market in the coming months, The Conference Board reported Thursday.

The Help-Wanted Advertising Index now stands at 33, up from a downwardly revised 29 in November, although it’s still below the 38 reading recorded a year ago. In the last three months, however, help-wanted advertising rose in seven of the nine U.S. regions, with the largest increases occurring in the East North Central (35.9 percent), West South Central (23 percent), New England (16.1 percent) and Middle Atlantic (10.5 percent) regions.

“Job advertising in print was up in December, reversing some of the decline earlier in the year. Change in online ad volume (on a year-over-year basis) was a little stronger in December than a month or two earlier,” said Ken Goldstein, labor economist at The Conference Board. “Also, the leading economic index rose in December, suggesting there could be a little more spark in business activity in 2007. Employers are expending a little more effort to attract job candidates, suggesting a stronger labor market in the next few months.”

The proportion of U.S. labor markets reporting a rise in help-wanted ad volume jumped to 74 percent last month, compared with 41 percent in November, while the unemployment rate held at 4.5 percent, The Conference Board reported.

In December there were 3.34 million online advertised vacancies, a rise of 17 percent from last December, according to The Conference Board Help-Wanted OnLine Data Series.

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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