Employment Index in U.S. Eased as Jobs Harder to Get

A measure of job prospects in the U.S. fell in January for the first time in four months as more Americans said jobs were harder to get.

The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index decreased 0.1 percent to 109.38 from the prior month’s revised reading of 109.47, the New York-based private research group said today. The measure increased 2.7 percent from January 2012.

Today’s report follows Labor Department figures released last week that showed the U.S. labor market was healthier than first estimated. Better employment opportunities would help insulate consumers from higher taxes and lift the household spending that drives the economy.

“Despite the dip in January, the Employment Trends Index continues to signal a moderate improvement in the labor market,” Gad Levanon, director of macroeconomic research at the Conference Board, said today in a statement. Still, “this rapid pace of improvement in hiring may not continue in the coming months.”

Employers added 157,000 workers to payrolls in January after hiring a revised 196,000 the month before and 247,000 in November, according to Labor Department figures released Feb. 1. Revisions added a total of 127,000 jobs to the count in the last two months of 2012. The unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 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.

Weakening in six of the index’s eight components contributed to the decrease in the overall gauge, today’s report showed. In addition to those saying jobs were harder to get, there were fewer job openings, while a greater share of Americans said they were working part-time positions even though they desired full-time employment.

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