Overall economic activity in the U.S. continued to show gradual signs of improvement, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s latest report on regional economies (known as the “beige book”). All 12 Federal Reserve districts reported improved conditions across most business sectors. Labor market conditions advanced, with permanent employment levels edging up in most regions. Employment gains were most frequently cited in the manufacturing sector.

Boston The first district reported “stable to increasing activity in recent months compared with a year earlier.” Area staffing firms noted that revenues have risen year-over-year and range from “slightly better to up nearly 50%.” Increased hiring activity was reported for the legal sector, while employment opportunities in construction, architecture, civil engineering, marketing, and accounting remain limited. Staffing contacts in the region “largely express increased optimism and predict gradual improvement through 2010.”

New York The second district economy “has strengthened further since the last report, with scattered signs of improvement in the job market.” Manufacturing firms in the region noted continued gains in employment, while business contacts outside the manufacturing sector described business and employment conditions as “stable or rising modestly.”

Philadelphia Economic activity increased modestly since the last report. Area businesses reported a slight uptick in hiring. Staffing firms indicated a higher demand for temporary workers and a modest increase in demand for permanent hires.

Cleveland Business conditions showed further signs of strengthening during recent weeks. A general pickup in employment in the manufacturing sector was reported, with businesses recalling workers and increasing production hours. Regional staffing firms provided mixed reports on the number of job openings but stated that most opportunities were related to the health care sector.

Richmond The economy in the district continued to post moderate gains across most business sectors. Labor market conditions remained soft, but area staffing firms reported an increase in demand for their services. Most staffing firms anticipate the demand for workers “to continue to improve, citing a recovering economy and higher manufacturing orders.”

Atlanta Business contacts indicated a modest improvement in the region’s economy in April and May. Although overall employment has increased across most of the district, many businesses reported a reluctance to hire full-time employees, preferring instead to increase the work hours of existing employees and use the services of staffing firms.

Chicago District firms reported that economic activity continued to progress, but at a slower pace than was previously reported. Labor market conditions improved since the last report, with business contact indicating that they expect stronger employment gains in the second half of 2010. Staffing firms reported increased demand for industrial workers, as well as for workers in the professional and business services and the retail trade sectors.

St. Louis Overall economic conditions improved modestly since the last report. Manufacturing activity increased, with many production firms indicating they plan “to expand operations and hire new employees.” Service sector activity was mixed, with layoffs expected in business support services, electric utilities, education, and regional government agencies.

Minneapolis The region’s economy grew at a steady pace, with economic improvements noted across most industries. Limited signs of improved labor market conditions were reported. Approximately 75% of staffing firms responding to the Minneapolis Fed’s survey on business conditions reported an increase in the number of clients and employed temporary workers, with industrial placements showing the largest increase.

Kansas City The district’s economy grew modestly since the last report, with businesses reporting that they expect to see continued economic improvements for the remainder of the year. “District labor markets improved slightly, and contacts generally reported little wage pressure and few problems finding qualified workers.”

Dallas Economic conditions in the district continued to improve, with modest growth reported in manufacturing, transportation services, housing, energy, and staffing services. Overall employment levels in the region were stable, with some reports of limited hiring activity. “Staffing firms continued to cite increased demand for their services, and some contacts in transportation services, automotive sales, transportation, and construction-related manufacturing said they had either added a few employees or planned on hiring additional workers.”

San Francisco Business conditions in the region continued to show modest improvement during the reporting period. Consumer demand for retail items and services continued to increase, but remain below prerecession levels. Manufacturing activity also continued to firm. Wage pressures were “largely absent” given the continued high unemployment and limited hiring in the region.

Alexandra Karaer

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