NEW YORK - A monthly gauge of online labor demand in the United States fell slightly in January as online recruitment activity remained subdued at the start of the year, a private research group said on Thursday.

Monster Worldwide Inc MNST.O, an online careers and recruiting firm, said its employment index fell to 114 points in January from 115 in December. The current month's reading is 3 percent below the year-ago level, the most marginal rate of decline since the start of the recession, said the group.

The Monster Employment Index was nearly on par with its year-ago level in January, as last year's declining trends began to shift towards stabilization in a number of industries, said Jesse Harriott, a senior vice president at Monster.

With the economy returning to a stage of positive growth, we've seen subtle signs of firming in hiring trends, even for sectors like finance in recent months, said Harriott.

The Monster figures come a day after the ADP National Employment report which showed the private sector cutting 22,000 jobs in January, less than the 61,000 jobs lost in December. For more, see [ID:ID:nWEN9595]

The U.S. Labor Department will release its weekly readings on claims for jobless benefits later Thursday and its monthly payrolls report on Friday.

The Monster index registered increases in eight of 20 industries and seven of 23 occupations in the last month. Online job demand rose in just one of of the nine U.S. census regions, the East South Central Region, while demand in New England was unchanged from December.

The Monster Employment index is a monthly analysis based on a selection of corporate career sites and job boards. The margin of error is approximately plus or minus 1.05 percent. (Reporting by Ciara Linnane; Editing by Diane Craft)