updated 12/13/2005 11:28:48 AM ET 2005-12-13T16:28:48

Nearly a quarter of U.S. firms intend to increase staffing levels in the first quarter of 2006 from the current quarter, according to a survey of 16,000 employers released Tuesday.

Major Market Indices

Some 23 percent of companies surveyed expect to increase total employment in the first quarter, while 10 percent expect to decrease it, said Milwaukee-based global staffing firm Manpower Inc.

About 61 percent expect no change in employment, while 6 percent were unsure of their plans.

The results roughly matched plans from a year ago but were slightly less optimistic from the last three quarters of 2005, when on average 30 percent of firms expected to hire more, versus 7 percent that expected to trim staff.

Manpower said the survey marks a two-year period of steady hiring projections.

"For eight quarters now, we've seen a level of hiring intentions that has not been repeated in the 40-plus years of the survey," Manpower CEO Jeffrey Joerres said of the survey, which began in 1962.

"I think we're in a somewhat unique period where companies feel a demand for their products and services. It's not euphoric, but it's there. They are constantly in the market, surgically hiring to increase the payrolls of their companies to keep up with the steady demand."

Construction firms were the most upbeat about hiring in 27 years, with 25 percent of firms expecting to increase staffing and 12 percent expecting to reduce it, according to the survey.

The outlook was most upbeat in the western U.S., with 29 percent of firms planning to increase staff and 9 percent planning to decrease it, and least positive in the Midwest, where only 19 percent intended to increase staff, compared with 11 percent planning to cut back.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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