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The pace of hiring is expected to improve slightly in the spring due to the start of the construction season, but the job market will be sluggish compared with last year, a new survey reports.

Overall, 26 percent of U.S. employers intend to increase hiring beginning in April. The telephone survey of 15,000 employers reported an additional 8 percent intending to decrease hiring, and 63 percent reporting no changes.Nationwide, construction jobs are expecting the biggest growth, with 36 percent of employers intending to hire, according to the quarterly survey being released today by Milwaukee-based Manpower Inc., the nation's leading temporary help agency.

Manufacturing of durable goods - long-lasting, high-cost items such as cars and appliances - was second, with 31 percent of employers responding favorably. In last place, with only 11 percent of employers intending to hire new workers, were the education and mining sectors.

"Our new figures indicate that a continuing uncertainty prevails among the nation's employers which inhibits job growth," Manpower's president, Mitchell S. Fromstein, said in a statement released Sunday.

The numbers are higher than those forecast for the first quarter of this year but are lower than last year, when 30 percent of employers intended to increase hiring in the second quarter.

The forecasts correspond with other data that project only slight growth in the U.S. economy and the job market. Unemployment figures are expected to remain between 5.5 percent and 5.8 percent, while the economy is expected to grow 2 percent to 2.25 percent overall, according to government and private forecasts.