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U.S. job market expected to heat up this spring

The job market for most Americans will get even hotter this spring, with employers competing heavily for a shrinking number of skilled and available workers, according to a survey released Monday.

Many companies that have been trying to add staff in recent months have been unsuccessful, creating a backlog of demand for employees, said the report by Manpower Inc.The nation's largest temporary staffing firm said 30 percent of the 16,000 businesses it surveyed plan to add workers in the second quarter of this year.

Only 5 percent plan to reduce their staff, while the remaining 65 percent plan no change or aren't sure, the survey said.

Manpower subtracts the percentage of companies cutting staff from the percentage hiring workers to produce a hiring strength index of 25. The index was 22 at this time last year and 14 three months ago.

"There is increasing competition for skills at the higher levels and a decreasing number of unemployed even at the lowest skill levels," said Mit-chell Fromstein, Manpower's chairman and chief executive. "While a handful of corporate down-sizings create the headlines, the economy continues to create several hundreds of thousands of new jobs each month."

Earlier this month, the government reported that the nation's unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in January, just below a 24-year low of 4.6 percent set in November.

There has been lingering concern that such low joblessness will lead to inflation as workers begin to demand higher salaries. But that has not happened thus far, partly because of the unease created by huge layoff announcements.

Big names like AT&T, Boeing and Eastman Kodak have announced plans in recent months to shed at least 10,000 workers each.

Manpower said the strongest region for hiring in April-June quarter will be the Midwest, where 34 percent of companies surveyed plan to add workers while 5 percent plan cutbacks.

The second strongest region will be the West, where 31 percent expect to add workers, followed by the Northeast and South at 28 percent.