Here's what we want economists to say: "Strong job growth has resumed."

And here's what they've been saying: "The rate of decline has slowed."

We're far from the former, but we've also come a long way from the staggering job losses of a year ago. The oft-asked question is when will the job market improve, and several current forecasts don't see it happening until late 2010 or early 2011.

To try to predict economic activity in the regional economy six to nine months from now, Select Greater Philadelphia has been tracking a leading economic index that rose in seven of the last nine months of 2009.

That sounds good, but as Phil Hopkins, the group's director of research, explained the 12-month moving average was largely flat for the last four months of the year. So while it appears an economic recovery is starting, it remains very tentative, he said.

Those statistics come from Friday's release of a quarterly report assembled by the economic analysis firm IHS Global Insight that offers glimpses of the present and future economy. Philadelphia's leading economic index incorporates the stock prices of local companies, outbound export-vessel trips, temporary employment, and the national Index of Leading Economic Indicators.

James Diffley, managing director of the U.S. Regional Services Group at IHS, said Philadelphia's economy is improving but at a slow pace. The region is also ahead of many other places around the country that were harder hit by the recession, he said.

Still, Hopkins had been hoping that the latest report would've been the one to show that the local economy had bottomed out. Maybe next time.

And should that report for the January through March period show consistent growth, it won't mean that the job market will return to health soon, Hopkins said. Employers "are going to be careful" about expanding their workforces following the deep cuts they'd made, he said.

As the experts keep reminding us, it takes time for employment growth to take off following the end of a recession. Worries about commercial real estate, housing prices and the overall economy continue to weigh on the psychology of those in business, out of business, and out of work.