- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

NEW YORK, Jan. 30 (UPI) — The Conference Board said Thursday its measure of help-wanted advertising, a key barometer of America's job market, slipped in December amid few signs of any developing momentum in the labor market.

The group said its help-wanted index, which measures advertising volume in 51 major newspapers across the country, slipped 1 point to 39 from 40 in November. The board noted the index was 47 one year ago.

Economists on Wall Street were expecting the index to remain unchanged during the month.

In addition to providing insight on the general strength of the economy, the report gives a sense of how many jobs employers are trying to fill. If that number is relatively high, it could mean there is a shortage of available workers and companies may have to offer higher wages to attract them. This leads to wage inflation, which is bad news for the stock and bond markets.

Conference Board Economist Ken Goldstein said, "The labor market was flat at the end of 2002. Initial claims for unemployment insurance was changed little in December, and the volume of help-wanted advertising remained close to the levels that have persisted since October.

"Consumer confidence slumped, reflecting concerns about when the economy would strengthen enough to breathe some life into the labor market. This describes an economy in a 'soft spot' and shows few signs of any developing momentum. It probably won't be until Spring before hiring gains momentum," Goldstein said.

The board said in the last three months, help-wanted advertising declined in all nine regions of the country. The steepest declines occurred in the Middle Atlantic, where ads fell 20.2 percent, in the East North Central, where ads dropped 13.2 percent, the New England region, where ads fell 9.5 percent and in the East South Central region, where help-wanted ads dropped 8.1 percent.

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