Help Wanted — Sort Of

Unemployment job employment figures
Employers are reporting a somewhat greater willingness to hire people, but the slow economy and the threat of war with Iraq are keeping the employment forecast bleak, a quarterly survey found.

The job market will show improvement but is likely to remain sluggish in the second quarter of 2003, according to Manpower Inc.'s survey of 16,000 businesses, released Monday.

"It'll be difficult for job seekers going into the spring," Jeffrey Joerres, chairman and chief executive officer of Manpower, told CBS Radio News. "Overall less companies [are] declining in their workforce, but less adding to their workforce and that makes for a very difficult period we're entering into."

Other companies will keep their workforce the same from April through June, or are uncertain about hiring prospects.

In a previous study of prospects for this year's first quarter, 20 percent of employers said they expected increased hiring, while 12 percent intended to reduce their work force.

For the second quarter of last year, 21 percent expected to add employees, and 10 percent of employers saw job cuts.

For the second quarter of this year, "22 percent of the companies said they'll be hiring, so the jobs are out there, but there's a lot of people out of work right now, so it's going to be very competitive," said Joerres.

"Nine percent of the companies said they're going to be decreasing staff. That has gone down successively over the last three, four quarters, so that's good news," said Joerres. "What's happening is more companies are staying pat in the amount of employees that they have."

Manpower, the nation's largest staffing company, has conducted the survey for 26 years. Joerres said this quarter's results were unusually varied across regions and sectors.

For instance, in the West, manufacturers of non-durable goods have the country's most optimistic plans, while the finance, insurance and real estate; education; and public administration sectors expect the greatest hiring declines in the country.

Employers in the South were the most optimistic about job prospects, while those in the Northeast had the weakest forecast.

The nation's service sector is showing some intentions of hiring, and the key construction and manufacturing industries are slowly rebounding after a couple of stagnant years, Joerres said.

But Joerres said companies see weak demand, coupled with uncertainty over a possible war with Iraq.

"They're paralyzed right now and that's justified. Companies aren't going to want to invest or get too far ahead of themselves until they can see a clearer path," he said.