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Surfing the Want Ads: Online Job Advertisements in Oregon
by Nick Beleiciks
Published Apr-24-2013

Oregon job seekers had about 64,400 possible online advertisements for jobs that they could sort through in March 2013. That's well above the 32,500 online job advertisements that were available at the worst of the recession in April 2009, but still short of the crest of 69,200 advertisements for Oregon jobs that were online back in April 2007 (Graph 1). These seasonally adjusted counts of online advertisements for jobs are an indirect indicator of the overall demand for workers.

Online ads are collected by Wanted Analytics and reported each month through The Conference Board's Help Wanted OnLine (HWOL) data series. Job seekers can use the sorted online ads to target their search and speed up the process. Trackers of the economy also use the data as a source of real-time information about the job market.

Graph 1
Number of online help wanted ads fell sharply during recession Oregon
Online Ads for Job Seekers
Not too long ago, job seekers could open the classifieds section of a major newspaper and find hundreds of help wanted ads posted by businesses in need of workers. Economists were also paying attention, looking at the total number of help wanted ads in newspapers as an economic indicator. These days, job seekers will likely find just a dozen or so ads in their local paper, including one from the newspaper itself steering readers to the newspaper's website to find additional help wanted ads. Since advertising for new workers is now done mostly online, counting the number of help wanted ads posted on Internet job boards has replaced the number of printed newspapers ads as an economic indicator.

The Help Wanted OnLine series is generated by having computers scan 16,000 Internet job boards, corporate boards, and smaller job sites daily and collect all the help wanted ads. Duplicated ads are removed and the remaining ads are identified by type according to standard occupational classifications when possible and by job location if listed in the advertisement.

The daily collection of ads for jobs in Oregon is filtered to remove bogus ads and posted on www.QualityInfo.org to provide real-time assistance for job seekers using the JobNET and Occupational Information Center tools.

The Types of Jobs Being Advertised
The occupational groups with the most online advertisements largely consist of computer specialists and health care practitioners, and the number of ads for these occupations grew over the year (Table 1).

In general, the larger the occupational group, the more ads there will be, but that's not always the case. Some occupational groups, like food preparation and serving related occupations, have few online ads relative to the total number of jobs in the group. Employers are likely advertising the openings offline or having a relatively easy time filling those jobs. Occupations with many ads relative to the number of jobs, like computer and mathematical, could indicate that employers are having a difficult time filling those positions.

Help wanted ads existed for jobs in all the major occupational groups, some of which are affected by seasonal hiring patterns. For example, there were only 124 online ads for farming, fishing, and forestry occupations. Advertising for these occupations typically peaks in the summer, and few employers are looking for farm workers in March.

Table 1
Demand for Computer and Healthcare Workers Remains Strong in Oregon
Online Help Wanted Advertisements (With Identified Occupations)
  Total Ads    
Occupational Group March
Change Percent Change
Total Ads  61,540 52,584 8,956 17%
Computer and Mathematical 9,083 6,598 2,485 38%
Healthcare Practitioners and Technical 8,468 7,980 488 6%
Sales and Related 6,796 6,249 547 9%
Office and Administrative Support 6,021 5,172 849 16%
Management Occupations 5,265 4,645 620 13%
Business and Financial Operations 3,028 2,744 284 10%
Food Preparation and Serving Related 2,886 2,220 666 30%
Transportation and Material Moving 2,695 1,925 770 40%
Architecture and Engineering 2,471 2,175 296 14%
Installation, Maintenance, and Repair 2,049 1,800 249 14%
Healthcare Support 1,953 2,047 -94 -5%
Production Occupations 1,866 1,770 96 5%
Personal Care and Service 1,478 1,282 196 15%
Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media 1,390 1,117 273 24%
Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance 1,218 810 408 50%
Construction and Extraction 1,124 758 366 48%
Education, Training, and Library 1,058 978 80 8%
Community and Social Services 1,057 1,230 -173 -14%
Protective Service 571 425 146 34%
Life, Physical, and Social Science 482 364 118 32%
Legal Occupations 439 214 225 105%
Farming, Fishing, and Forestry 124 74 50 68%
Military Specific 18 7 11 157%
Note: Not seasonally adjusted
Source: Wanted Analytics
Online Ads Don't Always Equal Vacancies
The HWOL series is not a direct measure of job vacancies because the level of online ads can change for reasons not related to overall job demand. For instance, employers may leave ads posted online when they do not have a vacancy or are not actively recruiting for a new position. They could be "collecting resumes" for when they do have a vacancy. They may have posted an ad for an opening that they currently are not able to fill because of budget constraints. The employer may also have simply forgotten to remove the ad after a vacancy was filled. For all of these reasons, it is possible for online ads to outnumber actual vacancies.

Employers may also use one online ad to fill more than one vacancy, which would mean there are more vacancies than ads. Not all employers advertise their vacancies. They may simply hang a sign in the window or find new workers through an employment agency, also causing there to be more vacancies than ads.

Comparisons with job vacancy surveys conducted by the Oregon Employment Department over the last three years suggest that the HWOL series slightly overstates the number of vacancies. Since there is not necessarily a single vacancy for each and every online help wanted ad that is counted in HWOL, the series works better as an indicator of employers' demand for workers than it does as an estimate of the number of vacancies.

HWOL as an Economic Indicator
Monthly counts of online ads can serve as a proxy for current demand for workers, and trends in the number of HWOL ads should reflect employers' need for workers. By this account, Oregon is doing better than the nation in terms of growth in job ads, increasing 15 percent over the year while ads grew 5 percent nationwide (Table 2). Nevada was the only state among Oregon's neighbors to have fewer ads over the year.

In contrast to the labor demand growth in Oregon and Idaho, the number of online ads for jobs in Nevada fell by 4 percent over the year. The weak demand for labor in Nevada helps explain why The Silver State has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Graph 1 shows the trend for Oregon's online advertisements since March 2006. The number of ads fell sharply at the start of the recession and continued to crash, bottoming out just before the recession ended. Even after dumping many of their ads early in the recession, employers were still posting over 32,000 help wanted ads in Oregon during the worst point of the downturn. Since late 2009, the number of Oregon job ads has grown steadily and approaching pre-recession levels.

Table 2
Oregon Saw the Fastest Growth in Ads Among Neighbors
HWOL Ads in Selected States, Seasonally Adjusted
Change Percent Change
United States 4,898,700 4,667,200 231,500 5%
Oregon 64,400 56,000 8,400 15%
Idaho 22,000 19,500 2,500 13%
Washington 124,100 114,700 9,400 8%
California 570,600 543,900 26,700 5%
Nevada 38,800 40,500 -1,700 -4%
Note: A single ad may sometimes be counted in more than one state.
Source: The Conference Bureau, Help Wanted OnLine (HWOL) Series