Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jobs outlook weak but stable, survey finds

WASHINGTON — Employers’ hiring plans for the fourth quarter are “relatively stable” — slightly down from the third quarter, but a tick higher than in the prior year, according to the Manpower Employment Outlook survey released Tuesday.

A seasonally adjusted net 7 percent of employers said they plan to add to their workforce in the fourth quarter, compared with 8 percent in the third quarter, and 6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. When the job market is healthy, the net level is in the mid-20s. Most firms expect no change in their staff levels.

“We are kind of hovering. Our numbers have been in positive territory, but they’ve been in the single digits, and that’s reflective of the uncertain economic environment,” Melanie Holmes, a vice president at Manpower, a Milwaukee-headquartered staffing company, said. “It seems to be just slogging along at the same level. I’m happy that it’s positive, but I just wish it were more positive.”

The Manpower survey measures the percentage of firms planning to hire minus the percentage of those intending layoffs.

The U.S. Labor Department recently estimated that nonfarm payroll employment was unchanged in August, with private employment up a weak 17,000 that was offset by a decline in government payrolls. Net private employment growth has been positive since March 2010, while government jobs have declined almost every month since June 2010.

On a not-seasonally-adjusted basis, the net portion of employers who said they plan to increase their workforce in the fourth quarter was 5 percent — 16 percent planned to increase, 11 percent planned to decrease, 70 percent expected no change, and 3 percent didn’t know. In the third quarter, a non-seasonally adjusted net 12 percent planned an increase, compared with 4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

By industry, 11 of 13 industries showed a net positive employment outlook for the fourth quarter. However, for 12 of 13 industries, the level was down from the third quarter.

'Less positive'

“So even if they continue to be positive, the numbers are less positive,” Holmes said.

The categories of wholesale and retail trade, as well as mining had the strongest fourth-quarter results, while government and construction had the weakest.

“Mining is quite often among the strongest. With all of the natural gas exploration going on, we are still taking oil out of the ground, and we are still refining it,” Holmes said.

Manpower divides the U.S. into four regions: the Midwest, South, Northeast and West. The seasonally adjusted net employment outlook was 8 percent in the Midwest and the South, and 6 percent in the Northeast and the West.

“The regions remain positive, but the numbers aren’t really going up. The bottom line is employers are holding kind of steady,” Holmes said.