Job openings eased in February from a six-month high and American employers took on more workers, offering further evidence of a firm U.S. labor market.
The number of positions waiting to be filled fell to 5.45 million in February, from a 5.6 million figure in January that was revised upward, a Labor Department report showed Tuesday. Hiring climbed to the highest level since November 2006 while the number of people who quit their jobs (quits) also increased.
Still-abundant job listings, persistently low firings and steady hiring are the hallmarks of a gradually tightening labor market that may be on the cusp of producing faster wage growth for American workers. Such persistent employment remains a key building block for demand and the economy against a backdrop of lukewarm global sales.
“Just about any measure of labor-market conditions right now is showing strong conditions,” said Robert Dye, chief economist at Comerica Inc. in Dallas. “I would expect month-to-month fluctuations, but we look for ongoing moderate to strong job growth this year, and that being a major support to consumers and a major support to the overall U.S. economy.”
The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey projected 5.49 million openings after a previously reported 5.54 million in the prior month.
The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, adds context to monthly payrolls data by measuring dynamics such as resignations, help-wanted ads and the pace of hiring.
Although it lags the Labor Department’s other jobs figures by a month, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen monitors the data to get a better sense of labor-market tightness and worker confidence.
Job openings cooled in the manufacturing, business services, health care and transportation industries. They rose at construction firms and restaurants.
The number of people hired rose to 5.42 million from 5.13 million the prior month. The hiring rate increased to 3.8 percent from 3.6 percent. The gauge calculates the number of hires during the month divided by the number who worked or received pay during that period.
In a sign of greater confidence in landing a new job, more Americans voluntarily left their positions in February, the report also showed. Almost 3 million people quit their jobs, up from 2.9 million the prior month. The quits rate edged up to 2.1 percent from 2 percent. The gauge was at 2 percent when the last recession started in December 2007.
Total dismissals, which exclude retirements and those who left their jobs voluntarily, increased to 1.72 million, from 1.7 million the month before.
There were about 1.4 unemployed people vying for every job opening in February, compared with about 1.9 when the late 2007-2009 recession began.
In the 12 months through February, the economy created a net 2.7 million jobs, representing 62.1 million hires and 59.4 million separations.
The JOLTS data follow the March payrolls report released last week from the Labor Department, which showed still-robust job creation. U.S. employers added 215,000 jobs last month after an upwardly revised 245,000 in February. The jobless rate crept up to 5 percent from an eight-year-low of 4.9 percent in the prior month as more people entered the labor force.
Fed officials have cited strengthening employment conditions as a reason to be open about further interest-rate increases, even as global growth worries have weighed on the U.S. economic outlook and helped delay such a change in borrowing costs at the policy makers’ meeting last month in Washington.