March 1, 2024

Off the Charts: In a Survey of Bosses, Good News for Job Seekers

In a quarterly survey of chief executives, the Business Roundtable found that 52 percent of companies planned to hire workers in the United States over the next six months, while just 11 percent said they expected to reduce employment.

Never before have so many chief executives said they planned to hire, or so few said they planned to cut payrolls. The survey has been taken every three months since late 2002.

The Business Roundtable includes chief executives of 200 major American companies. If most of them did add workers, that would almost certainly have a substantial effect on employment in the country. Two other broader surveys of companies are taken each month by the Institute for Supply Management. Its survey of manufacturers has been showing more companies planning to increase employment than reduce it since the fall of 2009, and indeed manufacturing employment rose in 2010 for the first full year since 1997, according to the Labor Department.

It took longer for service companies to begin hiring. But the I.S.M. survey of such companies has shown positive readings since last fall, and the latest government report indicates that employment in that sector has risen to the highest level in two years.

All the surveys are aimed at measuring the breadth of employment plans, as opposed to the magnitude of such plans. So a company planning to add a few workers would count just as much as one planning to add thousands.

Whatever the companies say, though, consumers remain far from certain that jobs will materialize. In the latest consumer confidence survey by the Conference Board, only 20 percent of respondents said they expected jobs to be added to the economy over the next six months, slightly fewer than the number who expected a decline. Still, consumers have a history of pessimism in that survey, as is shown in the chart, and the proportion expecting gains is higher than it was in the years before the recession.

The I.S.M. numbers are normally presented on a scale of zero to 100, with 50 indicating that as many companies are hiring as are firing; numbers above that level indicating more hiring. The higher the figure, the more prevalent hiring is. In the charts, the figures are rebased so that zero is the neutral number.

Both the service and manufacturing figures slipped a little in March, which could indicate that growth is slowing. But the manufacturing figures for each of the first three months of 2011 were higher than in any previous month since 1973.

The Business Roundtable survey was conducted from Feb. 28 through March 18, and received responses from 142 of the 200 chief executives, which the organization said was the largest response rate ever.

The survey includes three questions, each of which produced unusually optimistic responses. Asked about their own companies’ plans for capital spending in the United States, 62 percent said they planned increases, while 6 percent expected to reduce spending. That was the best response since the first quarter of 2005, when 60 percent planned increases and only 3 percent expected to spend less.

In response to another question, 92 percent of the chief executives said they expected increases in sales for their companies, while none said they expected a decline. It was the first time that none of the executives thought sales would decline.

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