U.S. Employment Index Increases for Sixth Straight Month

Job prospects in the U.S. improved in March for a sixth consecutive month, indicating employers plan to keep adding to payrolls.

The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index increased 0.7 percent to 100.9, the highest level since October 2008, the New York-based private research group said today. The measure rose 8 percent from a year earlier.

Labor Department figures last week showed the jobless rate fell in March to a two-year low of 8.8 percent, while private payrolls rose by 230,000 after a February increase of 240,000, the strongest back-to-back gains since 2006. Employment growth was widespread, underscoring the Federal Reserve’s view that the recovery is on “firmer footing.”

“Employment excluding construction and state and local government has been growing faster than almost any other six-month period in the past decade,” Gad Levanon, associate director of macroeconomic research at the Conference Board, said today in a statement. “We do not expect a turnaround in those sectors, which are still lagging, nor do we forecast acceleration in overall economic growth in the next several quarters.”

The 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 five of the index’s eight components contributed to the increase in the ETI. These included fewer claims for jobless benefits, an increase in temporary jobs and a gain in industrial production.

Auto Sales, Hiring

Stronger demand is encouraging the auto industry to hire. Chrysler Group LLC, aiming for its first net profit since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, plans to hire 1,000 engineers and high-tech workers for its small and midsized vehicles. The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company is also urging its dealers to hire more salesmen and service workers to help boost sales by 32 percent this year.

“Hiring additional personnel in preparation for the spring market is essential for success in 2011,” Peter Grady, vice president of Chrysler’s network development and fleet, said in a memo to dealers last month.

Last week’s Labor Department report showed total payrolls, which include government agencies, increased by 216,000 in March after a revised 194,000 gain the prior month.

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