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Economy in Brief

JOLTS: U.S. Job Openings Improve Slightly
by Tom Moeller February 09, 2010

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that job market conditions changed little during December. The latest Job Openings & Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) indicated that though the job openings rate ticked up to 1.9%, it remained off sharply from the 3.1% rate when the current recession began. The job openings rate is the number of job openings on the last business day of the month as a percent of total employment plus job openings. Job availability rose 2.6% from November after two months of decline, and remained off 22.5% year-to-year. The series dates back to December 2000. 

Earlier weakness in the service sector stabilized last month. Leisure & hospitality job openings ticked up 2.2% (-25.7% y/y), and educational & health service jobs rose 1.3% (-19.7% y/y). Finally, the number of government sector job openings ticked up 0.6% (-0.6% y/y). Offsetting these gains was a 3.7% (-26.2% y/y) decline in the number of professional & business service jobs. That was down for the third straight month. Though the number of retail job openings rose 24.9% (-27% y/y) that just made up a November decline. Countering weakness in service sector hiring was the factory sector where job openings rose for the fifth consecutive month and were off a lessened 6.9% y/y. Construction sector job openings posted a sharp 29.3% decline (-19.7% y/y) which reversed most of the prior four months' increases.

The hires rate remained stable for the fifth straight month at 3.1% but was slightly improved from the series' low of 3.0% last spring. The hires rate is the number of hires during the month divided by employment. The actual number of hires fell 1.3% m/m but was down 9.6% year-to-year. Professional & business service sector hires fell to the lowest level since June with an 18.2% decline (-15.9% y/y) while leisure & hospitality hires fell 2.7% (-3.8% y/y). Factory sector hiring fell 6.0% and was off a diminished 6.0% y/y however construction sector hiring rose 10.5% m/m (-2.2% y/y).

The job separations rate fell back to the series' low of 3.2% with the actual number of separations off 14.5% year-to-year. Separations include quits, layoffs, discharges, and other separations as well as retirements. The layoff rate alone ticked up to 1.6% but was down sharply from the January high of 1.9%.

The JOLTS survey dates only to December 2000 but has followed the movement in nonfarm payrolls, though the actual correlation between the two series is low.ยท A description of the Jolts survey and the latest release from the U.S. Department of Labor is available here and the figures are available in Haver's USECON database.  

JOLTS (Job Openings & Labor  Turnover Survey) December November October Dec. '08 2009 2008 2007
Job Openings, Total
  Rate (%) 1.9 1.8 1.9 2.3 1.9 2.3 3.1
  Total (000s) 2,497 2,434 2,571 3,224 2,497 3,224 4,382
Hires, Total
  Rate (%) 3.1 3.1 3.1 3.3 37.4 41.1 46.1
  Total (000s) 4,073 4,125 4,045 4,508 49,448 56,486 63,666
Layoffs & Discharges, Total
  Rate (%) 1.6 1.5 1.6 1.7 20.7 17.7 16.5
  Total (000s) 2,079 2,011 2,128 2,360 27,594 24,362 22,613
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