U.S. Job Openings Fell in November From Two-Year High

Job Openings in U.S. Decrease for Third Time in Four Months
A jobseeker checks the jobs board at a Denver Workforce Center in Denver, Colorado. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg

Job openings in the U.S. fell in November from the highest level in two years, signaling a sustained labor market recovery will take time to develop.

The number of positions waiting to be filled decreased by 80,000 to 3.25 million, the Labor Department said today in Washington. The number of people hired dropped from the prior month and separations climbed.

Employers added a fewer-than-forecast 103,000 jobs in December, for a total of 1.1 million in all of 2010, the Labor Department reported last week. Faster job growth is needed to bring down the unemployment rate on a sustained basis and spur consumer spending.

“Labor demand still remains at very weak levels,” said Henry Mo, an economist at Credit Suisse in New York. Mo said the good news was that the level of firings remained near pre-recession lows, indicating “any increase in hiring will largely translate into higher headline payroll numbers.”

Job openings decreased 2.4 percent in November from a revised 3.33 million in the prior month that were the most since October 2008, the Labor Department report showed.

Another report today showed stockpiles at wholesalers unexpectedly fell in November, indicating stockpiles will provide less of a boost for the economy. The 0.2 percent decline in inventories compared with a 1 percent median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey and followed a revised 1.7 percent gain in October that was less than initially estimated, Commerce Department figures showed. Sales rose 1.9 percent in November.

Shares Climb

Stocks rose, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rebounding after three days of losses, as Sears Holdings Corp.’s profit forecast and Lennar Corp.’s earnings beat analyst estimates and Japan pledged to buy European bonds. The S&P 500 rose 0.6 percent to 1,277.07 at 11:13 a.m. in New York.

The drop in job openings was led by education and health-service providers, which saw a 91,000 decrease in openings. Retailers had 37,000 fewer jobs available and state and local government agencies saw a 25,000 decrease.

Professional and business services, which include accountants, computer systems experts and temporary-help agencies, had the biggest increases in available employment, followed by manufacturers.

Job Competition

Compared with the 15 million Americans who were unemployed in November, today’s figures indicate there were 4.6 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007. The number of jobless fell to 14.5 million last month, pushing the unemployment rate down to 9.4 percent, the lowest since May 2009, the Labor Department reported last week.

Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures. Private payrolls, which exclude government positions, rose by 113,000 workers in December, Labor Department figures showed on Jan. 7.

Employers took on 4.21 million workers in November, down 39,000 from the previous month, according to today’s report. Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their jobs voluntarily, rose to 1.79 million from 1.76 million a month before.

In the 12 months ended in November, the economy created a net 800,000 jobs, representing about 50.8 million hires compared with about 50 million separations, today’s report showed.

Bernanke’s View

At the pace of improvement projected by Federal Reserve officials, “it could take four to five more years for the job market to normalize fully,” Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said Jan. 7 in testimony to the Senate Budget Committee.

Fed policy makers in November began buying Treasury securities as part of a plan to pump as much as $600 billion into the financial system through June, in addition to $1.7 trillion purchased in the first phase of the program.

Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen, citing a study by four Fed economists that relied on the central bank’s main economic forecast model, said in Denver on Jan. 8 that the unconventional easing would have boosted job growth by 3 million workers by 2012.

Ford Motor Co., revealing three new electric or hybrid vehicles to the public yesterday, plans to hire more than 7,000 workers in the next two years, including engineers with expertise in battery-powered cars.

Ford will hire 4,000 factory workers and 750 engineers this year and add 2,500 hourly workers next year, Mark Truby, a company spokesman, said in an interview in Detroit.

“We’ll be recruiting in Detroit and eight other cities,” he said.

Cuts among state and local governments may deepen as municipalities try to balance budgets. Florida, facing a $2.5 billion budget gap next year, may eliminate 5 percent of its state workforce to save costs, Governor-elect Rick Scott said in a Bloomberg television interview Dec. 3.

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