Nine Good Signs for Job Growth

Every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its monthly employment report, which tracks job market indicators like national employment level, average hourly pay and hours worked. Because the BLS report is also the source for the official unemployment rate, it's often seen as the authority on the U.S. employment situation.

While the BLS numbers are certainly important, there are plenty of other gauges that provide different and supplementary benchmarks about the state of the job market.

So instead of only recapping the BLS numbers, we decided to take a look at the employment situation from a more holistic standpoint. Here's a look at nine encouraging signs ... all of which point to job growth.

1. The unemployment rate is down: According to theBLS Employment Situation Report for March 2011, the unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent, a full percentage point lower than it was in November 2010 and the lowest level since March 2009. The economy also added 216,000 jobs this March, beating economist predictions and solidifying a trend toward recovery.

2. The number of online job listings is up: Each month, The Conference Board's Help Wanted Online report looks at the number of advertised job postings online. In March 2011, there were 4.45 million job ads posted, an increase of 208,000 over February 2011 and up from 3.73 million in March 2010. In the first quarter of 2011, the number of job postings online rose by 600,000.

3. Private sector hiring is up: According to the ADP jobs report, which tracks the month-to-month change in private sector job levels, approximately 201,000 jobs were added in March, with small business hiring accounting for about half of all jobs added. The number is especially positive considering that on April 1, 2009, ADP reported the economy had lost 742,000 jobs the month prior.

4. Business owners expect more sales, increased hiring: The Spring 2011 PNC Economic Outlook Survey, which polls business owners on their overall attitudes about the economy, found that 48 percent expect their sales to increase in the next six months, up from 42 percent of those surveyed in the fall. Twenty-four percent expect to hire full-time employees, a number that is twice as high as it was in the spring of 2009, when only 12 percent planned to do so.

5. Employers are hiring more: Twenty-eight percent of employers surveyed for CareerBuilder's Q2 forecast said they added new, full-time employees in the first quarter of 2011, the highest number in three years. Twenty eight percent of employers also said they planned to hire more full-time workers in the second quarter of 2011.

6. CEOs are optimistic: The Business Roundtable CEO Outlook Index, which tracks optimism among CEOs of some of the nation's largest companies, reached an all time high in the first quarter of 2011. The economic outlook index reached 113 last quarter, up from 101 in Q4 2010, and the highest level since the Business Roundtable Index began in 2002. Previously, the index peaked at 104 in 2005.

7. First-time unemployment claims are dropping: Since new unemployment claims are typically filed immediately following a job loss, the number of initial unemployment insurance filings is seen as a gauge for the pace of layoffs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, initial claims fell by 6,000 to 388,000 the week ending March 26. While 388,000 is still a lot of people, at the height of the recession that number was closer to 651,000 applications per week. At the end of March 2010, claims hovered near 450,000.

8. Manufacturing is picking up: According to the latest Leading Indicators of National Employment survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, manufacturing has seen an increase in both hiring and compensation trends. Year-over-year, expected hiring is up 10.6 percent, and compensation is up 5.3 percent. According to the Institute for Supply Management, as of March 2011, the manufacturing sector had expanded for 20 straight months.

9. Layoffs are slowing: A monthly report by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, which monitors job cuts, found that the number of announced layoffs in March 2011 was 41,528 -- 18 percent fewer than the number announced in February 2011, and 39 percent fewer than in March 2010. Overall, the survey found that employers announced 130,749 layoffs in the first quarter of 2011, the lowest first quarter total since 1995, when 97,716 cuts were announced.

While we won't pretend to claim that the job market is exactly healthy, we will say that -- based on the above factors -- it's clearly improving. And after years of nothing but negative numbers, the positive ones are certainly something worth celebrating.

Next:Falling Unemployment Rate is No Joke

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