Online job recruitment in the Los Angeles metropolitan area held steady in January as gains in legal and high tech hiring were offset by drops in health care and education, according to a survey of job postings from online recruiting company Monster Worldwide Inc.

The Los Angeles metro region posted a 104 on the survey index. An index level of 100 represents the long-term baseline average in online job recruiting; anything above 100 indicates a strong job market for people seeking work.

The January number matched December's but was down from a peak of 107 in November.

While the Los Angeles region showed some hiring strength, it still lags substantially behind Monster Worldwide's nationwide index, which posted a record 151 in January, led by surges in white-collar workers in the legal, financial and information technology sectors.

"On the national level, the pace of hiring is picking up," said Esmael Adibi, director of the A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research at Chapman University. "Businesses had been using productivity gains to satisfy the need to increase output, but when productivity gains slowed, they had to hire additional workers."

The L.A. region has lagged behind the national averages ever since Monster Worldwide launched its breakout surveys last May.

One possible explanation for this difference could be the growing prominence in the last year of a rival online job posting service: San Francisco-based Craigslist Inc. The Monster Worldwide survey only tracks postings on its own website.

"Craigslist is particularly strong on the West Coast. This could distort the actual picture of the hiring that's going on," said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

Just as in the nationwide survey, legal and high tech online hiring in the Los Angeles region was robust in January. Online recruiting index for the legal area rose to 112 in January from 106 in December, while the online hiring index for jobs in the computer and mathematical fields rose to 108 in January from 102 in December.

Other areas posting significant gains were: security/protective services (up to 102 in January from 96 in December), construction (up to 101 from 97) and transportation and goods movement (up to 107 from 103).

The closely watched media and entertainment sector posted a slight gain, rising to 109 from 108.

The biggest drops in the online recruiting index were in military-related hiring (down to 114 in January from 125 in December), health care support services (down to 103 from 108) and life/physical/social sciences (down to 96 from 100).

Other areas posting smaller drops included management (down to 100 from 101), business and financial operations (down to 106 from 107), personal care and service (down to 97 from 99) and food preparation and serving (down to 101 from 102).

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