A key economic indicator measuring the volume of job ads in major U.S. newspapers rose one point in December, adding fuel to the belief that the economy will not enter a nationwide recession, The Conference Board reported today.

The Conference Board’s Help-Wanted Advertising Index inched up to 22 in December from 21 in November. Although it is much lower than the 33 reading a year ago, some 59 percent of labor markets surveyed in December reported rising want-ad volume, up from 37 percent in November.

In the last three months, help-wanted advertising declined in eight of the nine U.S. regions. Steepest declines occurred in the Pacific (-18.9 percent) and South Atlantic (-16.3 percent) regions. The East North Central region, however, showed a modest increase of 2.5 percent.

“The latest readings in print want-ad volume show a flat trend in the last three months of the year. The lack of stronger job prospects is resulting in very cautious and nervous consumer attitudes and spending patterns,” said Ken Goldstein, labor economist at The Conference Board.

“Meanwhile, with corporate profits no longer rising strongly, business is turning cautious about taking on relatively expensive labor,” Goldstein said. “While there are pockets of the nation in recession (Michigan, Indiana, New York, New Jersey and Silicon Valley, to name a few), there is not yet a national recession. Nor will there be a recession unless the decline in labor market activity intensifies and spreads to more parts of the country. Data through December suggest that is not the case.”

Based on monthly help-wanted, print-advertising volume in 51 U.S. newspapers, and because ad volume has proven to be sensitive to labor market conditions, the Help-Wanted Advertising Index provides a gauge of change in the local, regional and national supply of jobs.

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