MILWAUKEE-According to the latest Manpower Inc. Employment Outlook Survey, U.S. employers expect to strengthen their hiring activity in the fourth quarter of 2003. When the seasonal variations are removed from the data, the survey results for this quarter mark the first increase in job prospects since the first quarter of 2003.

Of the 16,000 U.S. employers that were surveyed, 22 percent said they plan to increase hiring activity for the October to December period, while 11 percent expect a decrease in employment opportunities. Another 62 percent of employers foresee no change in hiring, and 5 percent are uncertain of their staffing plans.

"The improvement in hiring expectations for the fourth quarter marks a reversal of the downward trend we have seen in the U.S. survey data since the beginning of the year," says Jeffrey A. Joerres, chairman and CEO of Manpower Inc. "Although the survey results are somewhat weaker than the fourth quarter of 2002, employers report a consistent level of job growth across the majority of industry sectors and all four regions of the United States."

Employers in the Northeast, Midwest and West regions report equal hiring forecasts for the final 3 months of the year. The South has the most promising employment outlook again this quarter and has since the third quarter 2002.

Durable goods manufacturers expect to hire at the same pace as last quarter, which is moderately slower than the forecast a year ago. The South anticipates the most job opportunities. The Northeast, Midwest and West share identical employment outlooks for the durable goods manufacturing sector, which are slightly less positive than in the South.

Manufacturers of nondurable goods plan to hire at a consistent pace with last quarter, according to the seasonally adjusted data. This represents a plateau in the downward trend in hiring intentions that began in the first quarter of the year, but job levels are still lower than they were in the fourth quarter of 2002. Employment opportunities are greatest in the Northeast and fewest in the Midwest.