U.S. job openings reach 14-year high, and more workers quit

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U.S. employers advertised the most jobs in 14 years in January, and more workers quit — both signs of a strengthening job market.

Job openings rose 2.5 percent, to nearly 5 million, the most since January 2001, the Labor Department said Tuesday. The number of people quitting their jobs increased 3 percent, to 2.8 million, the most in more than six years.

More resignations are generally a sign of confidence in the economy, because people typically leave their jobs when they have another one lined up, often at higher pay, or are optimistic that they can find a new position.

Increased openings are usually followed by stronger job gains. Steady economic growth, powered largely by consumer spending, has boosted businesses' confidence in the economy and made them more willing to hire.

The figures follow another strong monthly jobs report released Friday. Employers added 295,000 jobs in February, extending a robust streak of hiring that began last year. The number of Americans earning paychecks has jumped nearly 3.3 million in the past year, the best 12-month gain since March 2000.

That gain has helped to sharply lower the U.S. unemployment rate to 5.5 percent, down from 6.7 percent a year ago.

The figures that were reported Friday are a net figure: Jobs gained minus jobs lost. The data being reported Tuesday are more detailed. They calculate total hires, as well as quits and layoffs.

Not all the news has been positive. Total hiring actually slowed in January, to fewer than 5 million, after reaching 5.2 million, a seven-year high, in December. The number of layoffs also fell that month.

The steady rise in open jobs should prompt employers to offer higher pay in order to fill some positions, economists say. There were, on average, 1.8 unemployed workers for every open job in January. That is typical of a healthy economy and is down from a record high of 6.7 in July 2009, just after the recession ended.

Yet, so far, the improving job market has yet to lift wages much. Average hourly pay rose just 2 percent in the 12 months that ended in February, down from a 2.2 percent year-over-year pay increase in January.

The February labor participation rate, which measures the percentage of willing workers capable of filling jobs, was 62.8 percent, matching its lowest percentage since 1980.

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