WASHINGTON — Few employers plan to ramp up hiring early next year, two surveys show — evidence that the economic recovery isn't likely to create many jobs anytime soon.
That will mean fierce competition for job openings that do exist. Nearly 6.3 unemployed workers, on average, are vying for each opening, government figures released Tuesday show. When the recession began, only 1.7 jobless workers were competing for each opening.
More of America's largest companies will shrink their staffs than will hire in the next six months, according to a quarterly survey from the Business Roundtable, a group of large-company CEOs released Tuesday.
Nineteen percent of the CEOs expect to expand their work forces, while 31 percent predict a decrease in the next six months, the survey found. That's slightly better than the 13 percent who expected to increase hiring three months earlier. At that time, 40 percent forecast cuts.
More chief executives foresee higher sales and capital spending compared with three months ago. But "it still will take some time for these gains to translate into more jobs," said Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications and chairman of the Roundtable.
Separately, a survey of 28,000 employers by staffing company Manpower Inc. found that hiring may improve in the first quarter of 2010 compared with the current quarter — but any gains will likely be slight.
Manpower said its hiring index rose to 6. It was the first positive reading since the first quarter of 2009. Still, that's far below the 18 the index reached in the fourth quarter of 2007, when the recession began.
Economists say employment at large firms is likely to remain flat through much of 2010. Many companies already have hit their hiring targets for what's expected to be a weak and bumpy recovery.
"We're in very much of a holding pattern for 2010," said Brian Bethune, an economist at IHS Global Insight.
The National Federation of Independent Business said Tuesday that more small businesses plan to reduce employment than increase it. Only 7 percent of small companies expect to hire in the next three months, the group found. Seventeen percent expect to reduce employment.
In Washington on Tuesday, President Barack Obama made small business the focus of multibillion-dollar proposals to spur job growth and stimulate the economy.
Obama proposed a tax cut for small businesses that hire in 2010 and an elimination for one year of the capital gains tax on profits from small-business investments. He also proposed an elimination of fees on loans to small businesses, coupled with federal guarantees of those loans through 2010.
Employers cut only 11,000 jobs in November, the government said last week, down from 111,000 the previous month. And the unemployment rate fell to 10 percent from 10.2 percent.
Yet even as job cuts slow, there's little evidence in government data that hiring is picking up. The Labor Department's report Tuesday on job openings said employers posted 2.5 million jobs on the last day of October, down slightly from 2.6 million in September.
That might sound like a lot of openings. But it's far below the peak of 4.8 million job openings in June 2007. And there are many more unemployed workers hunting for work now. The unemployed population rose to 15.7 million in October, compared with 7.5 million at the start of the recession. That means there are about 6.3 unemployed people, on average, for each job opening. That's up from 6.1 in September.
William Beill, a partner at a law firm in Kansas City, Mo., said his firm is benefiting from the increased competition as it seeks to hire two or three new lawyers.
For the first time in his 17 years as head of recruiting, he's getting resumes from young lawyers who have graduated from Ivy League law schools and worked at prestigious New York firms. And Beill says a rising number of them are unemployed.
"We're seeing overall a much higher caliber of candidate than we've seen in the past," he said.