MILWAUKEE -- People looking for work this spring could find the strongest U.S. job market in more than three years, even as companies remain reluctant to hire, a new survey shows.
Roughly one in four employers plan to add workers in the second quarter of the year to keep pace with increased demand for their products or services, according to a survey of 16,000 businesses by Manpower Inc., released Tuesday.
"Someone looking for a job no doubt will have an easier time now than in recent memory, than in the past two or three years," said Jeffrey Joerres, Manpower's chief executive officer and chairman. "It's still going to be difficult in that companies are going to begin this process very cautiously."
Substantial job growth will come if companies fulfill their hiring projections for the quarter, he said.
The survey found 28 percent of companies expect to hire more people in the second quarter, while 6 percent intend to cut jobs. The rest anticipate no change or are uncertain about hiring prospects from April to May.
The second-quarter results, when seasonally adjusted, are the strongest since the first quarter of 2001, soon after the economy officially entered a recession, according to Manpower, a Glendale, Wis.-based staffing company.
The number of companies expecting to hire is nearly twice that of a year ago and marks the third straight quarter of increased hiring projections.
William Mezger, chief economist with the Virginia Employment Commission, said companies cannot continue to rely on increased productivity to satisfy increased demand.
"As time goes on ... employers eventually have got to do some hiring," he said.
The nation has experienced slow employment growth even as the overall economy has grown at a healthy rate. Economists say increased productivity has allowed companies to do more with fewer people.
Last month the economy added just 21,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department. That left the unemployment rate stuck at 5.6 percent in February.
According to the Manpower survey, companies in all regions of the country expect stronger job prospects in the second quarter. Employers in the South expect the most activity, while the Northeast expects the least.
All 10 industries surveyed, including hard-hit manufacturers, also are more optimistic about hiring in the second quarter than they were last quarter and a year ago.
Terry Ludeman, a labor economist with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, said he hasn't seen much increase in manufacturing jobs in the Midwest but is moderately optimistic that could change.
"It's one of the industries that we've held our breath on, because we're not seeing a terrific recovery," he said.
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