December 2009: Good But Not Great, Hiring Holds Steady

December 2009: Good But Not Great, Hiring Holds Steady

Author Employment Index

Gains were minimal in December, but overall the number of available job openings nationally increased by nearly 12% from last year.

The holidays traditionally are a slow period for hiring, as job seekers take a break from submitting applications and companies busily prepare for the new year. A decline in the volume of available job openings during this period is not unusual – even during economic growth. Yet despite this, after suffering steep losses in September and October, hiring activity remained positive for the second straight month in December, though by only a small margin. In addition, December's performance helped year-end job availability improve by 12% overall from 2008, indicating that a job market turnaround may finally be taking shape.

According to the According to the Employment Index, which measures the volume of managerial online job openings across the U.S., job availability rose by 0.2 points in December to an Index score of 73.9 overall. After declines of 11.4 and 0.6 points in September and October, respectively, this marks the second straight month of positive job growth since August. However, considering that job availability often declines in December, relatively stable hiring during the holiday season is a positive sign - especially after a year defined by heavy losses.

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To determine monthly hiring activity, the Employment Index surveys the volume of managerial positions posted online across the U.S., as well as data on top regions, job levels and cities using proprietary employment data hand-counted by a team of researchers. What does December's overall score of 73.9 mean? The Index measures job availability against a base score of 100, which represents the volume of job openings during the same period in 2007. A score higher than 100 means that there are more available jobs than in 2007, while one below 100 means that job seekers now have fewer opportunities available. Over the past 24 months, the Index peaked in March 2008, with an index score of 109.3, or 9.3 points better than in March 2007. This month's score of 73.9, on the other hand, is 26.5 points worse than the base measurement in 2007.

In addition, while the volume of available jobs across the U.S. remained stable in December, not all regions offered job seekers such a hopeful outlook. In particular, the West bucked the national trend by posting a net loss in job availability of 1.9 points, or nearly 3%By contrast, after finishing last out of all U.S. regions in November, the Midwest enjoyed a surprising 6.9-point bump last month, to an Index score of 75.1. While this still trails the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest, the improvement has helped the hard-hit region post a 25% improvement in job availability from 2008. There was little other change in December, as the Northeast continued its run as the best U.S. region to find a job for the fifth straight month - no doubt helped by the fact that the area contains five of the 10 best cities to find a job.

See complete scores and Index tracking information for all parts of the U.S. in our Regions Index

Looking at U.S. cities with the most available job openings, for the sixth month in a row Washington, D.C., remained the best city to find a job, posting an overall Index score of 137. There was little movement below the nation's capital, as each of the top five cities was unchanged in December. Putting D.C.'s impressive performance in perspective, this month's last-place finisher, Riverside, Calif., managed a per capita job availability score of just 13. In the Midwest, Chicago rose three places on the top 10 to finish as the sixth best city to find a job, with a per capita job availability score of 57. In addition, Denver enjoyed a strong month for hiring, helping the city supplant Philadelphia in 10th place.

Check out the 10 best and worst cities to find a job

Tracking managerial job availability across the U.S., the Employment Index also breaks down hiring by four employment levels: C-Level, VP, Director and Manager. Mirroring the national trend, most levels showed little movement in December, with both C-Level and VP hiring remaining unchanged in December. However, this represents an improvement for C-Suite hiring, as it is the first time that the level has managed to avoid posting a loss since August. The same cannot be said for Director-level hiring, however, which dropped a point last month to an Index score of 80.


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