Employment Index in U.S. Climbs to Highest Level in Two Years

A measure of U.S. job prospects climbed in November to a two-year high, a sign that employers plan to expand workforces in 2011.

The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index increased 1.4 percent to 99, the highest point since November 2008, the New York-based private research group said today. The measure rose 9.3 percent from a year earlier.

Payrolls advanced by 39,000 in November, less than forecast, and the jobless rate unexpectedly jumped to 9.8 percent, Labor Department figures showed last week. The slowdown raises concern that a lack of jobs will limit consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, during the holiday shopping season.

“The disappointing employment numbers released last Friday are at odds with most of the leading indicators included in” today’s gauge, Gad Levanon, associate director of macroeconomic research at the Conference Board, said today in a statement. “While we are not expecting economic activity or employment to grow rapidly anytime soon, we do expect employment to continue to moderately increase.”

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.

Improvements in seven of the index’s eight components contributed to the increase in the ETI. These included a drop in jobless claims, more companies saying they were finding it difficult to fill jobs and an increase in temporary staffing.

Last week’s Labor Department report showed private payrolls that exclude government agencies increased by 50,000, also less than forecast, following a revised 160,000 gain the prior month.

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