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Hopes for Labor Market Rebound Fade as 2011 Winds to Close

By Theresa Minton-Eversole  10/18/2011
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The barrage of poor labor market reports in 2011 continues to take a toll on U.S. employers’ confidence in the labor market and overall economic recovery. The confidence in the job market has declined among human resource professionals for the fourth quarter of 2011, according to the
Jobs Outlook Survey (JOS) report released Oct. 12, 2011, by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The survey results for the fourth quarter of 2011 show that while jobs are being created at some companies, the pace will slacken as the end of the year approaches. In addition, some employers are still struggling to find workers with skills that match their available positions.

The survey results reflect the U.S. Labor Department’s most recent assessment of the U.S. job market. On Oct. 7, 2011, the department reported that the country added 103,000 jobs in September 2011—enough to skirt the possibility of falling into another recession for now, but not enough to make a dent in the nation’s unemployment rate. 

While 44 percent of responding companies to the survey said they added jobs in the third quarter of 2011, 13 percent of respondents decreased staffing levels during the same time. Furthermore, only 37 percent of respondents will conduct hiring in the fourth quarter of 2011, with medium-sized companies (48 percent) the most likely to add jobs in the fourth quarter.

Job Pluses, Minuses Don’t Add Up to Recovery

The quarterly survey examines hiring and recruiting trends across six months based on a biannual survey of public- and private-sector human resource professionals who have a direct role in the staffing decisions at their companies.

Only 34 percent of respondents reported they are “somewhat” or “very” optimistic about the U.S. job market for the fourth quarter of 2011 and expect job growth. That represents a steep drop from the second quarter of 2011, when a combined 57 percent of respondents expressed some level of optimism about job growth in the U.S. labor market.

“While HR professionals remain cautious about improvements in the job market, overall some companies have been adding jobs,” said Jennifer Schramm, GPHR, SHRM’s manager of workplace trends and forecasting. Still, said Schramm, “HR professionals say they are much less optimistic about job growth for this quarter than they were earlier in the year.”

Part of the reason for the lack of enthusiasm might be that holiday hiring is projected to be flat in 2011. The National Retail Federation (NRF) recently announced a less-than-cheery outlook for holiday sales, with only a 2.8 percent increase predicted over 2010.

“Many employers are getting more productivity out of their current staff by increasing their workers’ hours on the job,” said Schramm.

To view the results of the full survey report, visit SHRM’s Labor Market & Economic Data page on SHRM Online.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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