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Economy in Brief

U.S. JOLTS: Job Openings Remain Abundant
by Tom Moeller  March 15, 2019

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the total job openings rate increased to 4.8% during January and matched the record high. The job openings rate is the job openings level as a percent of total employment plus the job openings level. Finding workers to fill those openings became a bit more successful. The hiring rate improved to 3.9%, but has been moving sideways for about a year. In this tight labor market, employers remain hesitant to let people go. The layoff & discharge rate dropped to a record low of 1.1%. And with jobs plentiful, workers seem ready to seek out new positions. The quits rate held steady at a near-record 2.3%. The JOLTS data begin in 2000.

The private-sector job openings rate eased slightly to a near-record 5.1%. In leisure & hospitality, the rate held at 6.2%. In professional & business services, it eased to 5.9%, but remained up from 5.1% twelve months earlier. In education & health services, the rate strengthened to a record 5.5%, but in trade, transportation & utilities, it fell to a still-strong 5.0%. The rate held at 3.9% in construction and in manufacturing, it remained low at 3.4%. The job openings rate in government improved to 2.9%, and remained up sharply versus the 2009 low of 1.2%.

The level of job openings increased 15.0% in January to 7.581 million. Private-sector openings increased 0.6% (14.6% y/y) while government sector job openings rose 19.8% y/y.

The private-sector hiring rate eased to 4.2% and remained below May's eleven-year high of 4.4%. The rate in leisure & hospitality jumped to 6.7%. In professional & business services it weakened to 5.3%, and remained below the 2017 high of 6.1%. The construction sector's hiring rate rose sharply to 5.7%, and nearly equaled the January 2017 high of 5.8%. The hiring rate in trade, transportation & utilities fell sharply to 4.0%, the lowest level in a year. In education & health services, the rate held steady at 3.0%. In manufacturing, the rate was firm at 2.8%. The hiring rate in government has been moving sideways near 1.7%.

Total hiring increased 5.0% y/y to a near-record 5.801 million. Hiring in the private sector rose 4.5% y/y while government sector hiring strengthened 12.7% y/y.

With the strong labor market, the overall job separations rate has risen to 3.7% and remained near the expansion high. The private sector separations rate increased to 4.1%, but was below the cycle high of 4.2% reached in July. The separations rate in government rose slightly to 1.6%.

The level of separations strengthened 4.4% y/y. In the private sector, they were up 4.2% y/y led by an 18.8% surge in the construction sector. In educational and health services separations rose 7.7% y/y but in trade, transportation & utilities, separations eased 0.5%. Leisure & hospitality job separations increased 4.5% y/y but in manufacturing, they fell 1.4% y/y. In the financial sector, separations decreased 13.5% y/y. Separations in the information sector also declined 10.3% y/y but professional & business services job separations rose 5.9% y/y. Separations in the government sector increased 7.5% y/y.

In another sign of a strong labor market, the level of quits rose 13.5% y/y to 3.490 million in January. The quits rate of 2.3% remained up sharply from 1.3% at the beginning of the expansion. The private-sector quits rate held at 2.6%, the highest level in 13 years. The government sector quits rate surged to a record 0.9%.

The level of layoffs in the private sector declined 11.2% y/y and the layoff rate held steady at 1.3%, down from the 2009 high of 2.2%. The government sector layoff rate held at the record low 0.4%.

The Job Openings & Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) dates to December 2000 and the figures are available in Haver's USECON database.

JOLTS (Job Openings & Labor Turnover Survey, SA) Jan Dec Nov Jan'18 Jan'17 Jan'16
Job Openings, Total
 Rate (%) 4.8 4.7 4.8 4.3 3.7 4.0
 Total (000s) 7,581 7,479 7,626 6,591 5,624 5,977
Hires, Total
 Rate (%)  3.9 3.8 3.9 3.7 3.8 3.6
 Total (000s) 5,801 5,717 5,821 5,525 5,528 5,214
Layoffs & Discharges, Total
 Rate (%) 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.2 1.3
 Total (000s) 1,723 1,751 1,889 1,934 1,735 1,806
Quits, Total
 Rate (%) 2.3 2.3 2.3 2.0 2.2 2.0
 Total (000s) 3,490 3,391 3,379 3,022 3,154 2,883
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