U.S. job openings unexpectedly declined in August to the lowest level since March 2018, underscoring the slowdown in hiring across American employers even as the labor market remains generally tight.
The number of positions waiting to be filled fell by 123,000 to 7.05 million, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, released Wednesday. The quits rate dropped to 2.3%, in line with readings over the past year and signaling workers remain confident about job opportunities.
- Openings shrank on an annual basis for a third straight month, extending a downward trend from the record 7.63 million in November and offering another sign of labor market cooling. Companies have eased hiring this year amid struggles to find qualified workers and a dimming economic outlook.
- Total vacancies exceeded the number of unemployed Americans by more than 1 million.
- Labor Department figures released Friday showed employers added 136,000 jobs in September, while average hourly earnings saw the weakest annual gain in more than a year. Still, the unemployment rate declined to a half-century low of 3.5%.
“The labor market, by many metrics, remains strong, but it’s losing momentum,” economist Nick Bunker at hiring site Indeed.com said in a note. “Employers are pulling back on hiring. Today’s numbers give credence to the argument that the labor market slowdown is driven by employer demand.”
- Hiring decreased to 5.78 million while separations pulled back from an 18-year high, falling to 5.64 million.
- The decline in openings was led by a 61,000 drop in leisure and hospitality that brought the level to the lowest since 2017. The information, manufacturing and finance industries also posted declines.
- Construction and transportation both saw gains, as did readings on the federal government level and the state and local category.
- Openings decreased in the Midwest and West, while increasing in the Northeast and South.
- Although it lags a month behind other Labor Department data, the JOLTS report adds context to monthly employment figures by measuring dynamics such as resignations, help-wanted ads and hiring.