University of California students will pay more in tuition this year than the public funding that the UC system receives from the state. Reuters

Prospects for job seekers are gloomier in most major economies than they were three months ago, as weak U.S. and European economies begin to affect employers' confidence in other parts of the world, according to a quarterly hiring survey by ManpowerGroup.

Manpower Chief Executive Jeff Joerres describes the global jobs climate as tenuous, comparing it to a ball atop a hill: given a slight nudge, it could roll either forward or back.

A collection of little things on the margin can move the ball, Joerres said.

The global staffing services company said the fourth-quarter hiring outlook is lower in 21 of 39 countries and territories, including the United States. Prospects are stronger in 13 economies and unchanged in five others versus the third-quarter.

When compared with the fourth quarter of last year, the job outlook is stronger in most countries and territories, the United States among them. The U.S. index, however, declined sequentially for the first time in nine quarters, suggesting the unemployment rate is likely to go higher.

The U.S. net employment outlook -- which measures the difference between employers who say they expect to add jobs and those planning to cut them -- was down one point from three months ago. Of the 13 U.S. industry sectors Manpower tracks, only one -- education and health services -- showed stronger hiring plans.

Companies remain on the sidelines when it comes to hiring, Joerres said. Until there's more visibility (about) demand improvement, we're going to see companies completely resistant to adding workers for the fear that they'll have to reduce that same cost.

U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to stimulate jobs growth can help sentiment but will probably not boost hiring in the near term, Joerres said. Lower payroll costs will not induce a company to hire but could help those employers that were going to add workers anyway: instead of taking on nine workers, a manager might offer jobs to 10.

Obama has proposed a $447 billion jobs plan, involving tax cuts and public works spending, that he hopes will help rescue a faltering U.S. economy.

Much of what was proposed makes sense, Joerres said. Other things are to try to look like we're doing things and probably don't have a lot of efficacy.

Manpower's U.S. survey dates back to 1962 and is based on interviews with 18,000 employers. It is considered a leading indicator of labor market trends.

The survey results follow a disappointing U.S. jobs report that showed zero new jobs were created in August and the unemployment rate held steady at 9.1 percent.


Manpower's global survey, which polled more than 65,000 employers, found evidence slow U.S. growth was affecting job creation elsewhere. India's hiring outlook fell steeply from the third quarter, partly because its information technology industry relies on U.S. sales.

Employers in China are also expecting less robust hiring in the next three months.

Even the emerging economies, with their growing middle classes, still can't avoid the effect of the U.S. slowdown, Joerres said. China has a great middle class demographic but they still rely a lot on export goods to the U.S.

Rising labour costs have also made Chinese companies, especially small businesses, more reluctant to add workers, the survey found. Europe's austerity programs are also hurting demand for goods produced in emerging markets, Manpower said.

The weakest hiring outlooks are in Mediterranean countries hit by an ongoing debt crisis, including Greece, Italy and Spain. These countries' problems are affecting confidence in northern Europe, including the Netherlands. Central European economies such as Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic showed mostly lower readings.

In Asia-Pacific, spending on reconstruction after a destructive March earthquake lifted Japanese employers' optimism to its highest reading in three years. Sentiment in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore was little changed and dipped in Australia.

In the Americas, employers in Canada and Mexico are less optimistic than three months ago, but the outlook brightened in Colombia and Brazil.