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Business

Despite Sluggish Job Growth, Economic Indicators Signal Moderate Improvement

Conference Board's Employment Trends Index is up from a year ago, and in Santa Barbara County, employment numbers rise across the board

Although job growth slowed for the second consecutive month, several economic indicators released Monday improved in April.

The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index combines eight indicators: job searchers who say jobs are “hard to get,” unemployment insurance claims, percentage of firms that can’t fill open positions, employees hired by the temp industry, part-time workers, job openings, industrial production, and real manufacturing and trade sales.

The Employment Trends Index rose 0.8 percent in April, from 107.18 to 108.04, for a 7.1 percent increase from a year ago.

The indicators that improved the most were the percentage of firms that can’t fill open positions, job availability sentiment and industrial production, according to Gad Levanon, Conference Board macroeconomics research director.

“The growth in the Employment Trends Index in recent months is signaling moderate improvements in employment,” he said. “We did not expect employment growth in December to February, averaging almost 250,000 a month, to continue. However, the disappointing job gain in April (115,000) is probably below the current trend and should pick up to about 150,000 to 175,000 jobs a month through the summer.”

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department reported that non-farm employment rose by 115,000, which was below the 160,000 projection.

While that dropped the unemployment rate from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent, the decrease could mean that many discouraged job seekers have stopped looking and that there are more baby boomers retiring, Peter Rupert, director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, said at last week’s Santa Barbara County Economic Summit.

“Whatever politicians do, whatever the Fed does, whatever the Treasury does, the key is to keep us on this growth trend,” Rupert said.

In March, Santa Barbara County posted an upward employment swing in farming, to 16,500 workers from 14,900; leisure and hospitality, to 21,600 from 21,000; and construction, to 6,500 from 6,400. Professional and business service jobs have increased to 25,800 from 23,400 year-to-date, and the Employment Development Department estimates the fastest job growth in the technology industry.

But Rupert warned that most of the county’s job growth has stemmed from unskilled jobs that pay about $20,000 a year.

While job growth decelerated nationally, Federal Reserve Bank officials including Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart said the Fed shouldn’t do more at this point.

“Whether additional monetary policy actions should be used at this time to try to speed things up has to be balanced against the risks to the Fed’s price stability objective that could accompany an overestimating of the amount of economic slack, particularly labor market slack,” Lockhart said at the Economic Summit.

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @NoozhawkBiz, @noozhawk and @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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