"The lowest-risk thing to do is to stop altogether," White said.
An April survey of 122 technology executives by KPMG found that employers weren't expecting to expand their payrolls as aggressively this year as they did last year. The main reason: Most of them are bracing for slower revenue growth.
The fallout from Europe's shaky economy looms as the biggest concern. But slowing economies in Asia are also contributing to a more cautious approach to hiring, said Gary Matuszak of KPMG.
There's not much confidence in the U.S. economy, either. Thirty percent of the survey respondents predicted that the economy won't fully regain its health until 2014. Thirty-three percent expect it will be 2015 or later before the economy returns to where it was before the financial meltdown of 2008.
Alan Gaynor's New York architectural design firm has put off hiring because his real estate clients are uneasy about starting projects in an uncertain global economy.
"It's a wait-and-see attitude they have," Gaynor said. "Everyone's a little nervous. The economy's growing a lot slower than anyone would have liked."
Gaynor's firm employs 15, the same as a year ago. He cites gridlock in Congress and the slowing economies in China and India as reasons for his clients' insecurity.
One client has been on the verge of starting a $30 million project in Manhattan.
"They have been ready to pull the trigger for six months or longer — but they're not doing," Gaynor says.
Gasoline demand in the U.S. has fallen for 62 straight weeks, according to MasterCard Spending Pulse, as drivers commute and travel less. Demand for diesel, used by trucks to ship goods, has also been weak.
"Until the economy strengthens, there won't be a need for our products," said Bill Day, a spokesman for Valero Energy, a refiner based in San Antonio.
Valero isn't cutting jobs. It needs the same number of people to run a refinery whether it's operating at full strength or not. But Day said tighter environmental regulations and permit requirements, along with weak demand, are hindering the company's ability to grow.
The sluggish economy has been a factor in Alice Lerman's decision not to expand her Chicago-area pet supplies store, Barker and Meowsky. She hires only when one of her seven full-time and five part-time staffers leave.
"We really don't know exactly what's going to happen" with the economy, Lerman says.
Rather than expand her company, she says she's been tilting its focus toward services that big-box stores don't provide. She hasn't raised her prices and has even lowered some of them.
"We can't affect what's going on in the outside, but we can affect what's going on internally," Lerman says.
Caring Senior Service is hiring, but not as much as it had expected to, said CEO Jeff Salter. One factor has been high unemployment itself: People who are out of work are taking over caregiving for elderly and sick relatives that the company would normally handle. That's reduced demand for services the company provides at 42 locations in 12 states.
AP Business Writers Joshua Freed in Minneapolis, Joyce Rosenberg and Candice Choi in New York, Michael Liedtke in San Francisco and Alex Veiga in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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