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U.S. Job Openings Rose 352,000 in February to 3.09 Million

Job openings in the U.S. increased in February by the most since December 2004, a sign companies are turning more optimistic about hiring.

The number of positions waiting to be filled rose by 352,000 to 3.09 million, the Labor Department said today in a statement posted on its website. The number of people hired and the number of workers fired also increased.

Private payrolls rose by 230,000 in March, capping the strongest two-month gain since 2006, Labor Department data showed April 1. Hiring must accelerate and continue to broaden out across industries to restore the more than 8.75 million jobs lost as a result of the recession.

“We have seen a pickup in job growth in the last couple of months that has yet to be confirmed by higher job openings,” Jonathan Basile, a senior economist at Credit Suisse in New York, said before the report. “Private-sector surveys are pointing toward some better outcomes.”

Job openings increased 13 percent in February from a revised 2.74 million in January, the Labor Department report showed. The level of job openings in February was the highest since September 2008.

Retail sales rose in March for a ninth straight month, indicating the improving job market is helping Americans cope with higher food and fuel prices, Commerce Department showed today. Purchases increased 0.4 percent after a 1.1 percent gain February that was larger than initially reported.

Business Services

The gain was led by a 216,000 increase in openings at professional and business services, which include accountants, computer systems experts and temporary-help agencies. The leisure and hospitality industry had an 81,000 increase in openings in February. Government had 11,000 more openings.

Construction showed a 2,000 increase in job openings. Retail trade posted a 28,000 decrease, transportation and utilities had a 17,000 decline, and manufacturing had a 3,000 drop, according to the data.

Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures. Private payrolls rose in March after a 240,000 gain the prior month, Labor Department figures showed on April 1.

Employers took on 3.91 million workers in February, 138,000 more than the previous month, according to today’s report. Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their jobs voluntarily, increased to 1.59 million from 1.54 million a month before.

Voluntary Leavers

An increase in the number of people voluntarily leaving jobs may be one sign Americans feel more confident about finding other work. About 1.92 million people quit their jobs in February, representing 51 percent of all separations. That was up from 1.68 million, or 46 percent, in January.

In the 12 months ended in February, the economy created a net 1.2 million jobs, representing about 47.6 million hires compared with about 46.4 million separations, today’s report showed.

“The economic recovery continued to proceed at a moderate pace, with a further gradual improvement in labor-market conditions,” Federal Reserve policy makers said in minutes of their March 15 meeting released last week.

McDonald’s Corp., the world’s largest restaurant chain by revenue, is seeking about 50,000 workers in the U.S. during its National Hiring Day event on April 19, the company said in a news release last week.

Compared with the 13.7 million Americans who were unemployed in February, today’s figures indicate there were 4.4 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007. The number of jobless fell to 13.5 million last month, pushing the unemployment rate down to 8.8 percent from 8.9 percent in February, the Labor Department reported April 1.

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