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Despite some positive news, jobs outlook remains muddled

In one good sign for the labor market, some companies are posting more ads seeking employees. • A Web site that aggregates online job ads across 12 major industries said help-wanted postings grew in January in half the fields it tracks, compared with a year ago. • began keeping records on job postings one year ago. January's gains were the strongest yet.

The company said the six industries with more job postings last month than in January 2009 were:

, Hospitality, up 45 percent

• Education, up 22 percent

• Retail, up 16 percent

• Real estate, up 14 percent

• Manufacturing, up 4 percent

• Media, newspapers, up 4 percent

The construction industry had 19 percent fewer job postings in January as the housing market continues to suffer. Accounting job listings dropped 8 percent, information technology 5 percent and financial services 4 percent, and the health care and transportation sectors each had 3 percent fewer job listings than they did in the prior-year period.

Some business owners wary

Small-business owners are slightly more confident that sales will improve, but they remain hesitant to bring on new workers or spend more on company improvements.

Firms with fewer than 500 staffers employ about half the country's nongovernment workers, according to the Small Business Administration. How confident they feel about the economic recovery is crucial to forecasting American job growth.

The companies polled in January were slightly more pessimistic than they were during the fourth quarter. The Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index came in at -16 compared with -15 at the end of last year. But the measurement of future expectations rose to 13 from 9. A score of zero suggests small-business owners are neutral about their companies; a positive score indicates optimism.

Business owners were slightly more confident that their sales and cash flows will improve over the next year. Most still don't plan on adding to depressed payrolls or spending more money on their companies, however.

Nearly a quarter said they planned to increase investment in their business, but a third said they will cut capital spending. The rest planned no changes.

The jobs picture remains glum: Two-thirds said payrolls would stay the same, and only 18 percent said they want to increase jobs. Thirteen percent of those surveyed plan to cut jobs. That's following a year during which 35 percent of those polled said their company lost jobs.

The Wells Fargo/Gallup survey telephoned 605 small-business owners from Jan. 18 to 22. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Despite some positive news, jobs outlook remains muddled 02/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 22, 2010 4:32pm]
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