Employment outlook grim in 2009, but not for accountants

While the employment picture is the bleakest it's been in decades, accounting professionals should have a glimmer of hope in 2009.

According to staffing firm Robert Half International, which produces an annual salary guide, researchers are predicting a 3.4 percent salary increase for finance and accounting staff. Not surprisingly, most in demand are professionals who can help companies reduce inefficiencies and increase profits.

Robert Half also suggests that this year may be a good time to consider temporary project work. "In both good times and bad, organizations turn to temporary employees who can help them cost-effectively handle workload peaks and provide specialized expertise that doesn't exist internally," according to Robert Half's 2009 Salary Guide.

The backdrop is frightening, however. The national unemployment rate is 7.2 percent. In 2008, 2.6 million Americans lost their jobs, the highest level in more than six decades, CNNMoney.com reported.

"In another sign that more losses will come soon, temporary employment, including workers employed by temp agencies, fell by another 80,600 jobs last month. Employers often cut temporary workers before they begin cutting permanent staff," CNNMoney.com reported.

Demand for temporary workers overall is expected to fall 21.2 percent in the first quarter of this year over the same period in 2008, according to Palmer Forecast. "Our 2009 first quarter forecast, not surprisingly, shows the eighth consecutive quarter of year-over-year declines in demand for temporary workers," Greg Palmer, CEO of G. Palmer & Associates, an Orange County, Calif.-based staffing industry consulting firm, told MSNBC.

Industry analysts often look to the temporary staffing agencies as predictors of the economy to come, and business has generally been sluggish. One bright spot is accounting work.

"Even when business is bad, someone has to keep records of the wreckage," said Edward Baumstein, chief executive of the SolomonEdwards Group, a national recruitment company specializing in accounting and business services. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the government stimulus package will probably help employ accountants and auditors to do compliance work.

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