Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Based on the local media headlines and the press release from , job seekers and worried job holders in the Triangle could easily have been encouraged by the employment services firm’s latest quarterly hiring forecast.

Bah, humbug.

Egad, friends, look closely at the Manpower survey results. The scales of blind optimism will fall from your eyes.

If you can conclude that this is an economic recovery and that job prospects are truly improving in one of America’s high-tech hotbeds, then don’t make any buying decisions today, friend. You’ll be taken. You’re too trusting, too optimistic.

Here’s how the Manpower press release begins about the Raleigh-Cary metropolitan statistical area (MSA):

“[A]rea employers expect to hire at a healthy pace during the third quarter of 2010 …”

What do the numbers really say? You be the judge.

• 19 percent of firms surveyed plan to increase staff levels.

• However, in the second quarter, the percentage was 18 percent.

• 5 percent of firms plan to “decrease staff levels”

• That’s up from 2 percent the previous quarter

• 71 percent of firms plan to maintain staff levels

• That’s down from 78 percent in the second quarter

• 5 percent of firms “don’t know” about staffing

• That’s up from 2 percent in the previous quarter

• The net employment outlook actually decreased to 14 percent from 16 percent

Now, you tell me – Where is all the positive news in this report?

Not to pick on Manpower – it is reporting facts of a detailed survey of employers. But the numbers seem to undermine some of Manpower’s rosy words.

Up from 2009

With unemployment in double digits across North Carolina and at an unhealthy high just south of 10 percent in the Triangle, does this report provide any data to indicate that job prospects are improving?

Compared to the same quarter last year, the figures are better – 15 percent of firms were hiring, 14 percent were laying off, 65 percent were at maintenance level, and 6 percent didn’t know.

But who among the unemployed running out of benefits and those who show up each day fearing they will get a pink slip can take much comfort in these new figures?

Where are the jobs to be had?

“For the coming quarter, job prospects appear best in Construction, Durable Goods Manufacturing, Nondurable Goods Manufacturing, Transportation & Utilities, Information, Financial Activities, Education & Health Services, Leisure & Hospitality, Other Services and Government,” Manpower says . “Hiring in Wholesale & Retail Trade and Professional & Business Services is expected to remain unchanged.”

What about across the state? Asheville looks pretty good but Charlotte and Greensboro aren’t much better that Raleigh-Cary. (See Manpower’s state survey results and links to regional reports

According to Manpower, 17 percent of firms plan to hire, 5 percent plan to cut, and 71 percent plan to stay at current levels while 7 percent are unsure.

Nationwide, 18 percent of firms look to hire but 8 percent are still planning to “reduce their payrolls,” as Manpower put it.

Manpower concludes that their surveys have produced “three straight quarters of positive survey findings.” The Milwaukee-based company adds that 98 percent of the states have a “positive hiring outlook” as do 95 of the largest 100 MSAs.

"We have been waiting for the labor market to show signs of a sustained recovery," said Jeff Joerres, the chairman and CEO at Manpower, in a statement. "The survey results for the third quarter are indicating a trend of hiring intention that has historically proven to be the positive inflection point of accelerated job growth."

Manpower describes the South’s regional job picture as “stable.”

Well, stable is better than poor.

But wouldn’t you prefer hot?

Frankly, this report chills me.

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