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Economy in Brief

U.S. JOLTS: Job Openings and Hiring Stabilize
by Tom Moeller  May 9, 2017

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the total job openings rate of 3.8% during March equaled February, but remained below July's peak of 4.0%. The private-sector job openings rate held steady at 4.0%, about where it's been for a year. In the government sector, the job openings rate improved m/m to 2.3%, the highest level since November. These figures are from the Job Openings & Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS).

Movement in the job openings rate by sector remained mixed in March. The job openings rate in manufacturing jumped to 3.1%, the highest level since July. The rate in professional & business services rose to 5.1%, the highest level since October, but was down from the 6.1% high twelve months ago. The government sector job openings rate rose to 2.3%, a four month high. Elsewhere, job openings rates eased. The leisure & hospitality rate fell to 4.4%, equaling the lowest rate  of the last 18 months. In education & health services the rate fell to a still-high 4.8%. In construction, the openings rate declined to 2.4%, and was down compared to 3.4% in September. The rate in retail trade held steady m/m at 3.5% and remained lower than the 3.9% during all of last year. 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.

The actual number of job openings increased 1.1% (-1.9% y/y) to 5.743 million, but remained lower than the July high of 5.973 million. Private-sector openings improved 0.5% to 5.207 million, down 2.5% y/y. Professional & business services openings rebounded 12.9% m/m, but were off 14.4% y/y. Factory sector openings increased 8.2% (15.2% y/y). Government-sector job openings gained 6.8% (4.5% y/y). Offsetting these increases, construction job openings declined 5.0% (-17.7% y/y), reversed part of February's jump and remained down 27.4% over the last six months. Job openings in leisure & hospitality declined 7.0% (-0.2% y/y) and reversed the prior month's gain. The number of openings in education & health services declined 7.7% (+9.4% y/y).

The total hires rate held steady m/m at 3.6% and remained down from the February 2016 high of 3.8%. The private-sector hiring rate was stable at 4.0%, still below the high of 4.2% reached last February. The hiring rate in leisure & hospitality picked up to 6.3%, but remained below the December 2015 peak of 7.0%. In education and health services, the hires rate improved to 3.0%, equaling its highest level since December 2015. The hires rate in construction nudged higher to 5.4%. To the downside, in professional & business services the rate fell sharply to 4.8%. A 4.6% hires rate in retail trade was below last February's high of 5.3%. The government-sector hiring rate held steady at 1.5%, and remained nearly the lowest level in roughly two years. The hires rate is the number of hires during the month divided by employment.

The number of hires improved 0.2% (-0.7% y/y) to 5.260 million. Private-sector hiring increased 0.5% (0.2% y/y). Factory sector hiring strengthened 8.8% (22.9% y/y) while jobs in leisure & hospitality increased 1.9% (-0.5% y/y). Construction employment improved 1.4% m/m (4.2% y/y. To the downside, the number of professional & business services jobs declined 5.3% (-8.0% y/y), and jobs in retail trade weakened 4.4% (-1.2% y/y). Government sector hiring fell 3.8% m/m, and declined 12.4% y/y.

The total job separations rate ticked higher to 3.5%. The factory sector separations rate rose to 2.6%, but the professional & business services rate fell to 4.6%. The rate in leisure & hospitality rose to 6.2%. The actual number of separations increased 1.6% m/m (1.0% y/y) to 5.088 million. Retail trade separations increased 4.6% y/y. Leisure & hospitality separations were little-changed y/y, but separations in the education and health services sector jumped 9.7% y/y. Factory sector separations increased 10.8% y/y. Going the other way, professional and business services declined 11.2% y/y, and government sector separations fell 6.6% y/y. Separations include quits, layoffs, discharges, and other separations as well as retirements.

The layoff and discharge rate held steady near the record low at 1.1%, down from 1.3% two years ago. The private-sector rate held at 1.2% versus 1.4% in February 2016. The government sector rate eased to 0.3%, and matched the record low. Total layoffs declined 6.4% y/y. Private-sector layoffs were off 5.2% y/y, while government layoffs fell 24.3% y/y.

Large numbers of hires and separations occur every month throughout the business cycle. Net employment change results from the relationship between hires and separations. When the number of hires exceeds the number of separations, employment rises, even if the hires level is steady or declining. Conversely, when the number of hires is less than the number of separations, employment declines, even if the hires level is steady or rising. These totals include workers who may have been hired and separated more than once during the year.

The JOLTS survey dates to December 2000 and the figures are available in Haver's USECON database.

JOLTS (Job Openings & Labor Turnover Survey, SA) Mar Feb Jan Mar '16 2016 2015 2014
Job Openings, Total
 Rate (%) 3.8 3.8 3.7 3.9 3.7 3.6 3.3
 Total (000s) 5,743 5,682 5,625 -1.9% 3.1% 12.1% 28.1%
Hires, Total
 Rate (%) 3.6 3.6 3.7 3.7 43.6 43.5 42.4
 Total (000s) 5,260 5,249 5,424 -0.7% 1.2% 5.8% 8.2%
Layoffs & Discharges, Total
 Rate (%) 1.1 1.1 1.1 1.2 13.7 14.8 14.7
 Total (000s) 1,615 1,594 1,659 -6.4 -4.8 2.8% 2.3%
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