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U.S. Labor Market 'Relatively Soft'

Economists at Merrill Lynch & Co. expect Labor Department figures due for release tomorrow to show the U.S. economy created 230,000 jobs in December.

But that's not what Ken Goldstein, labor economist at the Conference Board, foresees. Very small gains in job advertising in newspapers, a slowing in the number of online job ads being posted and consumer wariness about the economy during the next six months suggest to him that "the post-holiday labor market will remain relatively soft -- probably delivering a little less than 200,000 new jobs a month on average."

Indeed, the Conference Board's latest help-wanted newspaper advertising index shows just a single-point increase in November 2005 and online want-ad volume slipping by 184,700 in November to 1.8 million, the first it had been below 2 million since July of last year.

The Conference Board is a New York-based business research group.

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