Job Openings in U.S. Rise to Second-Highest Level on Record

  • Construction firms, manufacturers among those looking to hire
  • Rate of workers quitting their jobs was highest in seven years

Job openings in the U.S. climbed in December to the second-highest level on record, a sign demand for labor remains strong.

The number of positions waiting to be filled rose by 261,000 to 5.61 million from a revised 5.35 million in November, the Labor Department reported Tuesday in Washington. The reading was just behind the 5.67 million reached in July that was the highest since data began in 2000. Construction companies and manufacturers were among employers looking to boost staff, and more people had the confidence to quit their jobs.

The labor market remains a bright spot for the economy, a sign businesses may be looking past soft global growth in anticipation of a pickup in demand in the months ahead. Continued hiring will be needed to help solidify an acceleration in wages -- which have been stagnant for much of the recovery -- and provide a lift to consumer spending.

“Job openings tend to be leading, so if you’re a business and you’re worried, you’re not going to post a job,” said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro Research LLC in New York. The quits rate “reflects worker optimism. Workers see the labor market as strong enough that they can quit their job in search of a new and, presumably, better paying one.”

The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists projected 5.41 million openings in December after a previously reported 5.43 million the month before.

More Context

The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, adds context to monthly payrolls data by measuring dynamics such as resignations, help-wanted ads and the pace of hiring. Although it lags the Labor Department’s other jobs figures by a month, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen follows the report as a measure of labor-market tightness and worker confidence.

The report showed the job-openings rate at construction companies in December was the highest since February 2007, while in manufacturing it rose to a record, propelled by demand among non-durable goods industries.

The number of people hired increased to 5.36 million from 5.26 million, while the hiring rate was little changed at 3.7 percent. The gauge calculates the number of hires during the month divided by the number who worked or received pay during that period.

Some 3.06 million people quit their jobs in December, up from the prior month’s 2.86 million. The quits rate, which shows the willingness of workers to leave their jobs, rose to 2.1 percent, the highest since April 2008. It was at 2 percent when the 18-month recession started in December 2007.

Fewer Firings

Total dismissals, which exclude retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, decreased to 1.61 million in December from 1.69 million the month before.

There were about 1.4 unemployed people vying for every opening in December, compared with 1.8 when the recession began, the figures show.

In the 12 months ended December, the economy created a net 2.6 million jobs, representing 61.4 million hires and 58.8 million separations.

The JOLTS report is a month behind the latest employment figures, which showed payrolls climbed by 151,000 in January, according to figures from the Labor Department. The increase came on the back of a strong finish to 2015 for payrolls, which grew by an average 279,000 per month in the fourth quarter. The unemployment rate fell to an eight-year low of 4.9 percent.

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