U.S. employers are slightly less willing to hire workers in the coming quarter than they were three months ago, even as hiring intentions improved in most other countries and territories, especially in Asia, according to a quarterly survey by Manpower.
Its U.S. survey renewed questions about the pace and sustainability of a forecasted U.S. jobs recovery, and whether eventual jobs creation will make much of a dent in the ranks of unemployed, which now number some 17 million Americans.
The global employment services company said Tuesday its seasonally adjusted U.S. net employment outlook was plus-5 for the second quarter, down slightly from plus-6 in the previous survey.
It stood at minus-2 in the second quarter of 2009.
The index, based on interviews with 18,000 U.S. hiring managers, measures the difference between those who say they will add to their workforce and those who plan cuts.
Nearly three-quarters, or 73 percent, reported no change in their hiring outlook, matching last quarter's record.
"There is some demand, so (employers) won't let people go, but not enough confidence to do hiring," Manpower Chief Executive Jeff Joerres said. The U.S. labor market is struggling to break a vicious cycle, he said.
Employers will not add capacity until they see more demand for their products or services — demand that depends largely on the U.S. consumer. But the consumer is not willing to boost spending until the unemployment rate retreats from its current 9.7 percent.
Such a "Catch-22" raises the prospect of slower economic growth with persistent unemployment, which could make the United States less globally competitive. It also argues for continued government stimulus in the economy, Joerres said.
U.S. hiring intentions appear more robust, however, when seasonal adjustments are ignored, according to Manpower.
Such adjustments make sense in a normal economic cycle — as, for example, construction ebbs and flows with the seasons — but may be less meaningful now.
Joerres said he expects government jobs data to report consistent job creation in coming months, but it is unlikely to show the 250,000 to 300,000 new jobs a month that would enable the U.S. economy to repair the damage caused by the recession.
"A snail's pace recovery is (equivalent to) falling back," Joerres said. "A very slow recovery is dangerous."
U.S. payrolls fell less than expected in February and growth in temporary jobs hinted at a possible wider jobs recovery, but staffing industry executives said they did not expect a fast reversal.
Manpower's U.S. survey dates back to 1962 and is considered a leading indicator of labor trends.
Its surveys have a shorter history in other countries, many of which were added just in the past decade. The Milwaukee-based company does business in 82 countries and generates most of its revenue and profit outside the United States.
Manpower's global survey of hiring intentions, based on 61,000 interviews, found better jobs prospects in 19 of 35 countries and territories when compared with the first quarter, but also indicated continued hesitancy to ramp up staff.
More employers than in last quarter expect to boost hiring in the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium and in Central European economies.
But Italy and Spain tied for the weakest outlook worldwide, and job prospects are flat or down in Germany, in the United Kingdom, Greece and Scandinavian countries.
Joerres compared the current debt crisis in Greece with the political impasse in the United States over President Barack Obama's healthcare reform.
Both are external factors that hurt employer confidence and may make it harder for labor markets to sustain a recovery.
"The Greek debt crisis is the same as our healthcare, this added layer of complexity and doubt that hangs in the air," he said.
In Latin America, employers are most confident in Costa Rica, Peru and in Brazil, where finance, insurance, real estate and construction sectors are strong.
Employers in Asia reported positive hiring plans, with India and Taiwan posting the best quarter-on-quarter gains, but in Japan, more are expecting to cut jobs than to add them.
Japan is "an anomaly" in its region, challenged by an aging labor force, high labor costs and restrictive immigration policy, Joerres said.
Overall, Manpower's global survey suggests a jobs recovery in developed economies does not yet have much momentum, and policymakers may need to risk creating some inflation in order to stimulate economies, Joerres said.
It is too soon to think about withdrawing stimulus, he said. "Putting the brakes on too fast can be dangerous," he said.
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