MILWAUKEE, Feb. 23 -- The poor economy and the threat of war with Iraq will likely cause employers across the country to hesitate when it comes to hiring this spring, a new employment survey finds.

The job market will show improvement, but is likely to remain sluggish in the second quarter of 2003, according to Manpower Inc.'s quarterly survey of 16,000 businesses nationwide.

"The people looking for jobs are going to be challenged as we look into the coming quarter," said Jeffrey Joerres, chairman and chief executive of Manpower, which is based in Glendale, Wis.

The survey found that 22 percent of employers expect to hire more people during the second quarter, while 9 percent intend to cut their work force. Other companies will keep their work force the same from April through June, or are uncertain about hiring prospects.

In a previous study of prospects for this year's first quarter, 20 percent of employers said they expected to increase hiring, while 12 percent intended to reduce their work force.

For the second quarter of 2002, about 21 percent had planned to add employees, and 10 percent planned job cuts.

Manpower, the nation's largest staffing company, has conducted the survey for 26 years. Joerres said this quarter's results were unusually varied across regions and sectors.

In the West, for example, manufacturers of nondurable goods have the country's most optimistic plans, while the finance, insurance and real estate, education and public administration sectors expect the greatest hiring declines in the country.

Employers in the South were the most optimistic about job prospects, while those in the Northeast had the weakest forecast.

The nation's service sector is showing some intentions of hiring, while the construction and manufacturing industries are slowly rebounding after a couple of stagnant years, Joerres said.