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Employers Ignore Economic Clouds

Wall Street Journal (03/09/13) Brenda Cronin

Employers in February hired briskly enough to bolster the recovery but likely not enough to prompt the U.S. Federal Reserve to put the brakes on its easy-money programs until it sees further, sustained gains. The U.S. added 236,000 jobs in February, notching gains in almost every corner of the private sector. “The overall 236,000 number is nice, but the breadth of jobs growth across industries tells me that the recovery is broadening and likely gaining momentum,” says Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC. “The mix of jobs is also changing. We’re creating higher-paying ones.” However, the full impact of the federal budget situation could take a serious toll in the second quarter and possibly the third, says Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisers.

The ranks of temporary workers, often seen as a hiring bellwether, surged by 16,000 after declining by 3,000 in January. Demand is up at ManpowerGroup, although the “conversion rate” of temporary workers to full-time ones is flat this year from last, says chief executive Jeffrey A. Joerres. That reflects companies’ increased productivity, Joerres says, with firms getting “very good at making trade-offs” and ensuring they have enough workers—but not too many—to handle the essentials. Companies hiring temporary workers are taking the economic headwinds in stride, Joerres notes. Despite a flurry of domestic and international risks, businesses “are getting a bit numb to the shocks that are happening to the system,” he says. “But they’re remaining on high alert.”