U.S. job openings decreased in February by the most since 2015 while still exceeding the number of unemployed Americans, a sign of some potential relaxation in what’s been a consistently tight labor market.
The number of positions waiting to be filled decreased by 538,000 to 7.09 million from an upwardly revised 7.63 million in the prior month, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, released Tuesday. The quits rate held at 2.3% for a ninth straight month, indicating Americans feel confident in their ability to find new employment.
The sizable decline may reflect temporary factors after an unexpectedly weak February jobs report, which was followed by a hiring rebound in March that suggests employment gains remain broadly intact. The JOLTS report lags other Labor Department data by a month, but it adds context to monthly employment figures by measuring dynamics such as resignations and hiring. The data signal employers may be having an easier time finding workers even amid historically low unemployment and wage gains near the best pace of the expansion. Employers have struggled to attract employees and fill positions in recent months despite steady pay gains. The total for quits held steady as 3.48 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs. Federal Reserve policy makers watch this measure for signs of upward pressure on worker pay that may feed into inflation, which has lingered below the central bank’s target level. Despite the decline, openings still outnumbered the total number of unemployed Americans by about 852,000 in February, though the gap narrowed to less than 1 million for the first time in eight months.
Hiring eased to 5.7 million from 5.83 million the prior month. Separations increased slightly to 5.56 million. The decrease in openings was led by accommodation and food services, which fell by 103,000, along with real estate and rental and leasing; and transportation, warehousing and utilities. Openings fell in all four U.S. regions.