Tracing The Great Recession And Recovery Through Help Wanted Ads

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Official jobs and unemployment numbers aren't the only way to trace the recession and the recovery

After years of speculation on a “jobless recovery,” finally, things could be looking up–at least for the moment.  This week, the Bureau of Labor statistics reported some serious gains on the national jobs front for January, with the creation of 243,000 jobs.

While job counts and unemployment numbers are the most common ways to measure the national employment situation, they aren’t the only angle worth examining.  The Conference Board, a global business research firm, recently released a set of data looking at online Help Wanted ads from May of 2005 to January of 2012.

With the Conference Board data, we were able to chart the course of the Great Recession and the long march toward recovery.  If you run your cursor over the each point on the chart below, you can see how many new Help Wanted ads posted online for each month, or how many total ads–old and new–were posted that month.

Data Source: The Conference Board

Both total and new online job listings peaked in April 2007.  Things chug along at a fairly even rate up through September 2008, when Lehman Brothers failed.  If you look at the new job listings, you can see after that…the bottom drops out.  We hit a trough in new job listings in March 2009, with 1.7 million new postings.  Then in September, there’s another 1.7 million posting trough.  (The nadir of total job postings was actually in May 2009, at 2.7 million.) Since then, it’s been a more-or-less steady climb upward in terms of new (and total) online job listings.

Interestingly,the federal government reports 243,000 jobs were added in January (which is highly unusual, anyway, since there’s usually a bit of a drop when holiday temp workers leave).  Meanwhile, according to The Conference Board data, while new postings dipped this past January (as one would expect), total postings were up slightly, which is more in line with the government’s report.


“*Total ads are all unduplicated ads appearing during the reference period.  This figure includes ads from the previous months that have been reposted as well as new ads.

**New ads are all unduplicated ads which did not appear during the previous reference period.  An online help wanted ad is counted as “New” only in the month it first appears.”–Notes as written in Conference Board data set.



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