I got a phone call last night from someone currently in her 3rd year as an Assistant Professor at a decent department without a graduate program. She's generally happy there, but believes (correctly, it seems to me) that the research profile she's built up in her 3 years makes her a good candidate for a move at the Assistant level to a department with a graduate program.
She called because, after looking at the JfP, she has decided to go on the market. Her view is that the conditions are ideal for someone like her who is looking to upgrade: She has a record of success as a full-time teacher and colleague, an established record of research productivity, and can be hired at the Assistant level. In short: she's a low-risk hire, and she thinks that ecomonic conditions are such that departments need to avoid taking risks with their faculty lines (or face the very real possibility of losing them).
This sounds plausible to me. I wonder if other mid-stream Assistants are thinking along similar lines?
Also: I'm inclined to think that the increase of ads which call for applications at either the Assistant or Associate rank is probably due to the kind of risk-aversion mentioned above: Departments who fill their current openings with people that turn out to not be tenurable after two or four years risk losing the line altogether.
UPDATE: I've since heard from two other Assistants who are midway to the tenure decision who have reasoned that their chances of landing a better job are heightened in this market.