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Conference Board Analysis

Help Wanted Online: The Recovery Has Arrived

Yes, it looks like the recovery in the job market is finally here. Sure, something could still go wrong — as it did about this time last year, after a promising January. And yes, it’s true that over the last few days some major layoffs were announced at pharmaceutical companies. But according to the Help Wanted Online survey — conducted by The Conference Board and tracked by Science Careers — we’ve nearly bounced back from 2+ awful years.

According to the Conference Board survey, the number of job ads posted online increased by 439,000 in January compared to December 2010. That’s an increase of more than 10% and the biggest increase since Science Careers began tracking these numbers in May 2008. It’s also the biggest percentage increase since January 2010 — and, yes, that proved to be a false start, so perhaps I should be a little too cautious in my pronouncements.

But I’ll leave caution to June Shelp, the vice president of The Conference Board. “The very strong seasonal gain to start 2011 is welcome news following seven months of essentially flat U.S. labor demand,” Shelp said, quoted in a Conference Board press release. “Last year, after a promising start (up about 350,000 in January 2010), labor demand fizzled, and the last half of 2010 was actually flat with no appreciable gains in job demand. Hopefully the January 2011 increase suggests that employers are seeing a pickup in their businesses and labor demand will continue to improve throughout this year.”

Let’s look at the numbers in more detail. After the downturn that started in April 2007, driven by the financial crisis, the number of online job ads fell by about 1.8 million, hitting a low point 2 years later in April 2009. Since then, 1.44 million ads — about 80% of what was lost — have been added back. One more month like January 2010 and we’ll have caught up completely, according to the help-wanted-online metric.

The category most relevant to Science Careers readers — life, physical, and social sciences — mirrored the market as a whole: The number of online ads rose by 10.6% month over month. In computer and mathematical science, the number of online ads increased by 11.7%. In the category “healthcare practitioners and technical,” the increase was nearly 15%. Online job ads in the architecture and engineering category grew by 14.6%. Even the “education, training, and library” category, which had been especially laggardly of late, rose by more than 13%. All these numbers are month over month. 

There’s more to report. Unfortunately (for me, not for you) The Conference Board is improving its methodology, which makes comparisons to our older data useless. However, all the data reported above, for January and for December, are based completely on the new methodology so the comparisons should be sound. The Conference Board is releasing the whole time series in revised form, which will allow us to update our older charts to make them consistent with the new methodology. But the revised time series won’t be available until early February. That means you will have to wait a while for even more details.