Some Good News for Job Seekers

While the abundance of bad news is undeniable, there are also glimmers of hope to be found.

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There aren't many betting on a strong July jobs report, which will be released Friday. Hiring is still so sluggish that Congress again extended unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. But while the abundance of bad news is undeniable, there are also glimmers of hope to be found. The Conference Board reports that online postings for job openings jumped by 139,200 in July. The total openings last month were nearly 4.3 million, up from 4.15 million in June and less than 3.3 million a year ago.

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July's rise in online postings followed a much smaller jump in June. "After rising sharply in December and January, online job demand for the nation as a whole has settled into a more modest pattern over the last six months, with increases that have averaged about 43,000 per month," says June Shelp, vice president at the Conference Board. These may not be sufficient job opportunities to erase recessionary losses anytime soon, but they are pointing up rather than down (toward, say, a double dip).

The biggest growth in opportunities last month was in the West. Job vacancies advertised online last month in California rose 34,800, driven by higher demand in computing and mathematical positions as well as office and administrative support jobs. Demand increased in both Colorado and Arizona in July, after two consecutive months of falling demand.

The future isn't entirely doom and gloom either. The Society for Human Resource Management reported that half of human resources managers are somewhat optimistic about job growth in the third quarter, and 7 percent are very optimistic. At this time last year, just 37 percent reported some level of optimism.

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More than half of managers replying to the SHRM survey indicated that their companies would likely maintain current staffing levels in the third quarter, while 36 percent of professionals in small organizations reported they're likely to hire. A little less than a third of professionals at large organizations said their companies were likely to hire through September.

An interesting note: The strongest hiring outlook came from the nonprofit sector, where 42 percent of professionals plan to hire in the third quarter. The government had the smallest expectations for growth, with just 22 percent of professionals expecting to add staff.

Labor Department data for May and June showed the private sector struggling to create jobs, adding just 33,000 in May and 83,000 in June. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said on "Good Morning America" Monday that private sector jobs were returning at a pace, if not as fast as the Administration would like, "in some ways it's stronger than we expected."

Others have found that job growth in the most recent months hasn't matched their hopes or expectations. "Things were accelerating nicely. We had a pretty healthy job gain in April," says Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities in Stamford, Conn. "This slowdown we've seen in recent months, to me, has been very disappointing." Stanley expects July's private sector job growth to be about 90,000, or "more of the same," he says. The headline figure—or total jobs lost or gained in private and public sectors—will likely be a negative figure, as temporary census jobs come to an end.