The expected pace of job growth through early summer has been downgraded from “moderate” to “modest,” as The Conference Board today reported that its Help-Wanted Advertising Index sank another point in February.

The index, which measures job offerings in major U.S. newspapers, now stands at 31, down from 32 in January, and is well below the 39 reading recorded a year ago.

“The forward indicators of labor market activity were positive at the end of 2006. But the picture is more mixed now,” said Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein in a statement. “Print job advertising was lower in February. Online ad volume has maintained its pace. Unemployment claims edged higher in February and early March. And consumer expectations of job opportunities dipped in March. This suggests employment growth may continue, but probably at a more modest pace through spring and early summer.”

In the last three months, help-wanted advertising increased in seven of the nine U.S. regions, with the largest increases occurring in the East South Central (36.2 percent), Mountain (18.1 percent) and New England (16.9 percent) regions. Declines occurred in the Pacific (-4.7 percent) and Middle Atlantic (-2.3 percent) regions.

As for online job ads, those increased to 3.82 million in February, up 22 percent from January, according to The Conference Board Help-Wanted OnLine Data Series. There were 2.5 advertised vacancies online for every 100 persons in the labor force in February.

The Conference Board surveys help-wanted 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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