Employment index in U.S. increases for seventh straight month

Bloomberg News

A measure of U.S. job prospects rose in March for a seventh consecutive month, signaling the labor market is likely to add more workers, a private report showed.

The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index increased 0.7% to 94.4, from 93.7 the previous month, the New York- based private research group said today. The measure is up 5.5% from a year ago.

The economic recovery that began in the second half of 2009 is starting to produce the jobs needed to lift consumer spending and sustain the expansion. At the same time, unemployment may be slow to recede as more people enter the job market, giving the Federal Reserve scope to hold its benchmark interest rate near zero in coming months.

“The solid rise in the ETI and the widespread improvement across its components suggest that the March increase in employment was not a fluke,” Gad Levanon, associate director of macroeconomic research at the Conference Board, said today in a statement. “However, we do not expect job growth to significantly accelerate in the short term.”

The Employment Trends Index aggregates eight labor-market indicators to forecast short-term hiring trends. On average, the gauge can signal a rebound in hiring as little as three months before the fact and can predict job declines six to nine months in advance, the Conference Board said.

Five of the index’s eight components improved last month, signaling the world’s largest economy may continue to create jobs after payrolls rose by 162,000 in March. The unemployment rate was 9.7% for a third month and has not increased since October, according to a Labor Department report April 2.

The number of weekly applications for jobless benefits, the percentage of respondents saying jobs are hard to find, and the number of temporary employees were among the measures that contributed to last month’s improvement in the ETI, the Conference Board said.

The March gain in payrolls followed a revised decline of 14,000 in February and an increase of 14,000 in January, according to the Labor Department report. The March gain included 48,000 temporary workers hired by the government to conduct the census.

Job losses since the recession began in December 2007 have been the largest of any economic slump in the post-World War II era.