A report from The Conference Board this week suggests that improvement in the U.S. job market is unlikely before the third or fourth quarter of this year.

The organization’s Help-Wanted Advertising Index, a key economic indicator measuring the volume of job ads in major U.S. newspapers, dipped one point in February to 21, and is down nine points from the same time last year.

The Conference Board reported that just 31 percent of labor markets surveyed last month reported rising want-ad volume, down from 43 percent in January and 59 percent in December.

"More regions of the country are experiencing economic distress and the impact is now evident in the labor markets — the result of constant, unrelenting pressure from multiple sources. There’s been very little profit growth, and virtually no job growth in the past three months," said Ken Goldstein, labor economist at The Conference Board, in a news release.

"Businesses are cautious about investing and hiring. The lack of job growth sours consumer attitudes and spending plans. The lack of spending causes businesses to retrench. This is the downward spiral we are on," Goldstein said. "How much further down? For how much longer? The latest data available are reflective of conditions unlikely to turn more positive even by late summer, possibly not even until the end of the year. Expect a slow burn."

In the last three months, help-wanted advertising declined in seven of the nine U.S. regions. Steepest declines occurred in the East South Central (-12.5 percent), Pacific (-11 percent) and New England (-9.3 percent) regions. There were slight increases reported in the West South Central (3.5 percent) and West North Central (1.4 percent) regions.

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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