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Job availability waned in all of the top U.S. metropolitan markets in December, according to the Monster Local Employment Index, released by the New York-based online job board Jan. 22.

Portland, Ore., after four consecutive months, took the biggest hit in December, due predominantly to a loss in white-collar opportunities in IT, engineering and management, all of which stood lower than a year ago. Portland also showed big losses among management positions.

Demand soared, however, for IT professionals in other markets. Both Cleveland and Kansas City showed significant growth in opportunities for technology and engineering professionals.

Phoenix, which had been on a gradual downshift over the previous six months due to a slump in its housing-driven economy, fell further in December. Baltimore saw an uptick in demand for researchers sand scientist as well as advertising and marketing professionals.

Atlanta, with a strong demand in the area of education as well as community and social services, fell only slightly at the end of 2006, compared to other metropolitan markets.

Click here to read more about layoffs in 2006.

Houston, due to solid growth in demand for both white- and blue-collar occupations, boasted the highest rate of increase in job availability over the previous 12 months.

Tampa and Washington, D.C., registered the slowest growth in job availabilities over the course of 2006, Tampa due to housing-related slumps, as well as a decline for health care, arts and entertainment; Washington due to losses in demand for office and admin workers, legal professionals and engineering.

Monster representatives said that the across-the-board job market declines in December were nothing to be overly concerned about.

"The Index’s year-end decline in overall online job availability is in line with seasonal expectations and past Index results, since employers typically conclude their hiring activities in the first half of the month, before people head off for the holidays," said Steve Pogorzelski, group president, International at Monster Worldwide.

"Overall, 2006 was another year of steady growth for the Index, with every market demonstrating positive growth on a year-over-year basis, albeit at a slower rate in the second half of the year."

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