Job Openings in Rose in Sept. to Three-Year High

The number of positions waiting to be filled in the U.S. rose in September to the highest level in more than three years, indicating some companies are preparing for an improving economy.

Job openings increased by 225,000 to 3.35 million, the most since August 2008, a month before the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. intensified the financial crisis, Labor Department data showed today in Washington. Hiring advanced by 185,000 to 4.25 million, and firings also climbed.

Payrolls grew by 80,000 workers in October, and gains in the prior two months were revised up, Labor Department figures showed last week. At the same time, hiring is short of the pace needed to reduce unemployment hovering around 9 percent, helping explain why Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has said the recovery is “frustratingly slow.”

“It is reassuring that the economy could muster a speed-up in job openings,” said Henry Mo, a senior economist at Credit Suisse in New York. At the same time, “we have a persistent but inadequate recovery. We need faster hiring.”

Openings increased 7.2 percent in September from a revised 3.13 million in the prior month that was higher than previously estimated.

Openings Rate

The rate of job openings rose to 2.5 percent, according to today’s report. Employers in professional and business services and trade and transportation accounted for the biggest increases in available employment. Construction was the only industry to show a drop.

The report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures. Payrolls climbed last month following gains in the prior two months that were revised up by 102,000, Labor Department figures showed on Nov. 4. Private payrolls rose by 104,000 workers last month, less than the median projection in a Bloomberg survey.

Given today’s numbers, an upward revision to October payrolls “could be possible,” Credit Suisse’s Mo said.

Compared with the 14 million Americans who were unemployed in September, today’s figures indicate there are more than 4 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.

Employers took on 4.25 million workers in September, up from 4.06 million the previous month, today’s report showed.

Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their jobs voluntarily, climbed to 1.76 million from 1.69 million a month before.

12-Month Gain

In the 12 months ended in September, the economy created a net 1.3 million jobs, representing 48.3 million hires and about 47 million separations, today’s report showed.

Macy’s Inc. (M), the second-biggest U.S. department-store chain, is stepping up hiring of mostly part-time employees by 4 percent for the November-December holiday shopping season. At the same time, Whirlpool Corp. (WHR), the world’s largest maker of household appliances, plans to cut more than 5,000 jobs in coming months, illustrating the uneven rebound.

The Fed’s latest forecasts showed less optimism about the economy and employment. Policy makers project growth next year of 2.5 percent to 2.9 percent, with unemployment in the 8.5 percent to 8.7 percent range. Joblessness in 2013 is forecast at 7.8 percent to 8.2 percent.

Additional stimulus “remains on the table,” Bernanke said at a Nov. 2 press conference in Washington, declining to specify conditions that would prompt a move. “While we still expect that economic activity and labor market conditions will improve gradually over time, the pace of progress is likely to be frustratingly slow.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Shobhana Chandra in Washington at schandra1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net

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