Cautious optimism among workers

A survery found that employee confidence has declined, but attitudes are better than a year ago.

Posted: September 06, 2007

Housing prices are tumbling in a slow market.

Finance companies are shedding workers faster than the seashore loses tourists after Labor Day.

And given the vagaries in the stock market, reading one's 401(k) statement can be scarier than the latest Stephen King thriller.

It's enough to give regular folks a case of the economic heebie-jeebies, according to the Hudson Employment Index, a national survey that measures employees' confidence in the workplace.

The national index for August, released yesterday, fell to its lowest point since September 2005 and lower than it was a year ago. In the Philadelphia area, there has been a precipitous decline since April, but workers remain more optimistic than they were a year ago.

"Philadelphia is a slow and steady market," said Marc Zamsky, executive vice president in the Philadelphia office of Hudson Highland Group Inc., the New York recruitment company sponsoring the index.

Unlike the U.S. Department of Labor's monthly jobs report, due out tomorrow, which measures payroll data, Hudson's index tracks workers' attitudes.

It asks about their personal finances and job security, and whether their companies will be hiring or firing in the next few months.

"When the credit crunch hits and your equity goes down and you see your 401(k) falling, there's a chance that you connect your financial status with the economy," Zamsky said.

"But objectively, I'm not seeing any signs that I've ever seen in the past of a slowing market," he said. Those signs would include a slowing or delaying of recruitment orders.

Still, the number of people in the Philadelphia area describing their personal financial situation as poor has increased. An increasing number see stability, but not growth, in their prospects. And there is an uptick in the percentage worried about losing their jobs, according to the index.

Moreover, a separate survey released yesterday painted a discouraging picture for hiring nationally. U.S. companies added 38,000 jobs in August, the fewest since June 2003, according to the report, based on payroll data by ADP Employer Services.

Economists had forecast an increase of 80,000, according to the median estimate of 21 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

Also, planned layoffs in August surged to 79,459, the second-highest total of the year, with nearly half the cuts coming in the financial sector, Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., the Chicago outplacement firm, said in its own report released yesterday.

"We have not seen such a rapid descent since the airlines shed thousands of workers in the wake of Sept. 11," chief executive officer John Challenger said in a statement.

A fourth survey yesterday, Monster.com's Employment Index, saw a slight rebound of online postings in August after the traditionally slow months of June and July. But the annual bounce-back was less than it was in prior years.

Retail hiring was slow, Monster said. However, stores are still recruiting.

Retailers at the Philadelphia Premium Outlets, the 100-store center opening in November in Limerick, hope to find at least 500 employees at tomorrow's job fair at the Valley Forge Convention Center.

Finding them could be a challenge given Montgomery County's low unemployment rate of 3.3 percent.

But Michele Rothstein, the center's spokeswoman, said it expected to draw at least some of the 800 employees it needs from Norristown and Pottstown, where the unemployment rate is a little higher.

"These are jobs that are coveted by people who enjoy retailing," she said.


Metro Areas

The August Hudson employment index for selected cities. December 2003 = 100.

AreaIndex

Dallas109.1

Washington107.1

Atlanta102.4

U.S.99.2

New York97.0

Los Angeles96.4

Philadelphia92.5

Chicago86.5

SOURCE: Hudson Highland Group Inc.


Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

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