Moderate economic and job growth is forecast for the coming months despite January’s two-point decline in the Help-Wanted Advertising Index, The Conference Board reported today.

The index, which measures job offerings in major U.S. newspapers, now stands at 32, down from an upwardly revised 34 in December, and is well below the 38 reading recorded a year ago.

In the last three months, however, help-wanted advertising rose in eight of the nine U.S. regions, with the largest increases reported in the New England (35.8 percent), East North Central (24.3 percent) and Mountain (21.9 percent) regions. The Pacific region declined 6.9 percent.

“The labor market was strong in the final months of 2006. The forward indicators of labor market activity suggest moderate economic growth will continue to deliver new jobs into the late winter and early spring months,” said Ken Goldstein, labor economist at The Conference Board. “The latest data shows that job advertising in print was up a little in December, and held on to most of that increase in January.”

The JOLTS data (Job Opening and Labor Turnover), which had remained stubbornly flat throughout most of 2006, finally showed a little improvement in December, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“These data all add up to a picture of a labor market with a little more spark now than a few months ago,” Goldstein said. “That’s remarkable, considering that the labor market and the economy were put through very sharp changes in energy costs and a significant slump in the housing market.”

In January there were 3.14 million online advertised vacancies, a decline of 6 percent from December, according to The Conference Board Help-Wanted OnLine Data Series. Over the year, online advertised vacancies were up 12 percent for the nation as a whole. Last month there were 2.06 advertised vacancies online for every 100 persons in the national labor force, down slightly from 2.19 the month before, but up from 1.89 a year ago.

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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