Employment Index in U.S. Declined in March on Fewer Job Openings

A measure of U.S. job prospects in March declined for the first time in six months, indicating a pause in the recent progress of the labor market.

The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index decreased 0.2 percent to 111.2 after climbing in the prior month to a revised 111.43, which was the highest level since June 2008, the New York-based private research group said today. The measure rose 3.7 percent from March 2012.

Today’s report follows Labor Department figures released last week that showed the job market slipped in March as employers hired fewer workers than forecast.

The index “is still signaling moderate job growth in the coming months,” Gad Levanon, director of macroeconomic research at the Conference Board, said today in a statement. “The current trend suggests faster growth than the disappointing increase of 88,000 jobs in March. At the same time, 200,000 new jobs per month in the current economic environment is not in the cards either.”

The 88,000 gain in payrolls was the smallest in nine months and less than the most-pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg survey, after a revised 268,000 February increase, Labor Department figures showed on April 5. The jobless rate fell to 7.6 percent, the lowest since December 2008, from 7.7 percent.

The Employment Trends Index aggregates eight labor-market indicators to forecast short-term hiring trends. On average, it 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.

Four of the eight components in the index deteriorated last month, led by a smaller share of firms with positions they’re not able to fill right now, a pickup in initial jobless claims and fewer job openings.

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