Job Openings in U.S. Decrease in December as Hiring Slows

Job openings in the U.S. fell in December from an almost six-year high and hiring slowed, a sign the labor market cooled at the end of the year.

The number of positions waiting to be filled declined by 43,000 to 3.99 million, from a revised 4.03 million the prior month, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Fewer Americans quit their jobs.

The report follows data last week that showed a smaller-than-projected gain in January payrolls after a weather-depressed December, marking the weakest back-to-back advance in three years. Faster hiring would help spur the wage growth needed to boost the consumer spending that accounts for almost 70 percent of the economy.

“I’m skeptical of the ramp-up that everyone is expecting this year,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, said before the report. “There doesn’t appear to be any acceleration in employment growth.”

Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures.

The drop in openings indicates employers are awaiting a pickup in demand before adding to headcount, a sign the slowdown in December payrolls extended beyond the inclement weather.

Employment rose by 113,000 workers in January after a 75,000 increase in December, Labor Department figures showed on Feb. 7. The jobless rate dropped to 6.6 percent last month, the lowest since October 2008, from 6.7 percent in December.

Hiring Rate

Today’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, report showed the number of people hired fell to 4.44 million in December, pushing the hiring rate down to 3.2 percent from 3.3 percent.

Some 2.37 million people quit their jobs in December, down from the prior month’s 2.41 million. The quits rate, which shows the willingness of workers to leave their jobs, fell to 1.7 percent from 1.8 percent, the highest in more than five years.

“Labor market indicators were mixed but on balance showed further improvement,” Fed policy makers said in a statement following their January meeting.

The JOLTS report is among data monitored by Janet Yellen, who this month replaced Ben S. Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman. She testifies before Congress today.

Yellen Remarks

In her first public remarks as Fed chairman, she said today that more work is needed to restore the labor market to health and pledged to maintain her predecessor’s policies by scaling back stimulus in “measured steps.”

While growth has picked up, “the recovery in the labor market is far from complete,” Yellen said in the text of remarks to the House Financial Services Committee.

Today’s report also showed total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their jobs voluntarily, increased to 1.61 million in December from 1.5 million a month before.

Job openings in education and state and local government accounted for the biggest decreases in available employment, while manufacturing and retailing showed gains.

In the 12 months ended in December, the economy created a net 1.9 million jobs, representing 53.3 million hires and 51.4 million separations.

Considering the almost 10.4 million Americans who were unemployed in December, today’s figures indicate there are about 2.6 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.

Department-store chains were among companies announcing workforce reductions in January after the holiday-shopping season. Macy’s Inc. said it would eliminate about 2,500 jobs and close five stores, while J.C. Penney Co. plans to cut about 2,000 positions and shutter 33 locations.

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