The number of open jobs in the US reached its highest level in over a decade last month, even as employers slowed down hiring.
US job openings reached 4.84 million in August, according the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey (JOLTS), released monthly. That was much higher than the 4.7 million economists were expecting and an increase of over 200,000 openings from July, which was revised downward to 4.6 million jobs.
August had the most open jobs since 2001, the year the Labor Department began tracking JOLTS data.
Education and health care services led the charge with new open jobs, followed by leisure and hospitality. But despite the surge in open positions, hires in the US actually fell in every category but the government sector.
“Looking beyond the monthly volatility in hires, the August JOLTS data are consistent with diminished labor market slack,” Barclays Research economist Jesse Hurwitz wrote in an e-mailed statement.
Workers, too, are feeling better about their hiring prospects. The “quit rate,” which measures workers confidence in their ability to find another job, stayed near a post-recession high (1.8 percent). The number of unemployed job seekers per job opening fell to 1.98 from 2.10 in July.
The JOLTS survey comes on the heels of the government’s latest monthly employment report. The economy added 248,000 jobs in September, ticking the unemployment rate below 6 percent for the first time since the start of the Great Recession. It was a better showing than expected, and from looking at the headlining numbers over the past several months, it’s easy to get the notion that the job market has fully recovered.
But worries linger: The labor participation rate is still at its lowest level in nearly four decades. Some of that can be explained away by an aging Boomer population retiring in greater and greater numbers, but a declining participation rate among younger workers as well is a particular concern.
Furthermore, wages have barely budged, rising a measly 0.1 percent in September and 2 percent year over year. If that continues, experts say, it could seriously hamper the economy’s full recovery.
Still, there is mounting evidence that the labor market is improving. The Federal Reserve’s Labor Market Conditions Index, updated Monday, showed continued tightening, and certain sectors could soon have to pay workers more in wages should that continue.
The good JOLTS report did little to move the stock market, which was down midday Tuesday on weak economic data out of Europe.