The U.S. job market strengthened in May for the first time in 16 months, indicating that while job loss figures remain deep in the woods a recovery, albeit slow, is in sight, a research group said on Monday.

The Conference Board said its Employment Trends Index ticked up to 89.9 in May from an upwardly revised 89.7 in April, originally reported at 89.5.

Compared with a year ago, the index is down 20 percent, the Conference Board added.

While it is too early to say that the ETI has bottomed, the moderation of the last two months is certainly a sign that the decline in job losses is real and signals that the worst is over, said Gad Levanon, senior economist at the Conference Board.

However, as the economic recovery over the coming months is likely to be very slow, we still expect the unemployment rate to continue to increase to double digits by the end of this year and into 2010.

The report is in step with government data, which on Friday showed that while the unemployment rate has hit its highest in 26 years, the pace of U.S. job loss for May slowed sharply, a strong sign of a tapering recession.

(Reporting by Camille Drummond, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)