Job Openings in U.S. Fell in August to Lowest Level This Year

Job openings in the U.S. declined more than projected in August to the lowest level this year and hiring cooled from a month earlier, a Labor Department report showed Wednesday.

Key Points

  • Number of positions waiting to be filled dropped by 388,000 to 5.44 million (forecast was 5.80 million), from a revised 5.83 million in July, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey
  • Monthly decline was biggest since August 2015
  • Hiring decreased to 5.21 million from 5.26 million; the hiring rate held at 3.6 percent
  • Some 2.98 million Americans quit their jobs, little changed from July; the quits rate stayed at 2.1 percent
  • Layoffs declined to 1.62 million from 1.64 million

Big Picture

Fewer help-wanted signs indicates hiring managers were a bit more cautious even as they’re reluctant to fire workers. The results are in sync with September figures released last week, which showed payrolls are rising at a healthy, albeit slower, clip. The JOLTS data also showed little change in the number of people leaving their job, keeping the quits rate steady for a third month. The measure is tracked by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as a gauge of workers’ willingness to voluntarily leave because they’re confident of finding better employment. 

Economists’ Takeaways

“This might seem like a huge drop, but the key point here is that the JOLTS numbers have been inexplicably strong over the past few months, relative both to other indicators of the pace of hiring and the official payroll numbers,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics Ltd., said in a note. “Further declines over the next few months would be no big deal, provided the nascent recovery in other hiring measures continues.”

Other Details

  • There were 1.4 unemployed people vying for every opening in August, compared with 1.9 people when the recession began at the end of 2007
  • Drop in openings was broad-based, including manufacturing, construction, retail trade, business services, education and health care
  • In the 12 months through August, the economy created a net 2.6 million jobs, representing 62.7 million hires and 60.1 million separations
  • Although it lags the Labor Department’s other jobs data by a month, the JOLTS report adds context to monthly payrolls figures by measuring dynamics such as resignations, help-wanted ads and the pace of hiring
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