Job Openings Aren’t What They Used To Be

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By Mark Whitehouse

Throughout the recent false dawn in the job market, one thing hasn't changed much: The low intensity of employers' efforts to fill vacancies.

New Labor Department data on job openings and turnover, released today, allow us to update a labor-market indicator known as recruiting intensity. Developed by economists Steven Davis, Jason Faberman and John Haltiwanger, it tracks various hard-to-measure qualities of job openings, such as how well they are advertised, the toughness of the screening process and the attractiveness of compensation packages. It gives a sense of how hard employers are trying to fill jobs, and how good or bad the experience of applying for a job is likely to be.

The latest data suggest -- if anybody needed further confirmation -- that looking for a job has remained a consistently awful experience, even during the winter mini-boom when employers were adding more than 200,000 jobs a month. The level of recruiting intensity saw a bit of a spike in February (see chart), and has gradually crept upward since the economy hit bottom in 2009. But as of April, it still stood 13 percent below its pre-recession average, and 17 percent below its pre-recession peak.

Depressing as it may sound, the weak recruiting effort does offer one bit of hope. It suggests that persistently high unemployment is not yet a permanent structural problem, in which U.S. workers lack the skills or other qualifications needed to fill available jobs. If and when employers find the confidence to advertise their positions more, relax their requirements or offer better terms, the job market can still come back.

(Mark Whitehouse is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

-0- Jun/19/2012 16:58 GMT