U.S. job openings, quits and hiring ease as labor market cools

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U.S. job openings eased in November to the lowest level since early 2021, fewer workers voluntarily quit their positions and the number of hires fell, adding to evidence of cooling labor demand.

Vacancies decreased to 8.79 million from an upwardly revised 8.85 million in the prior month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, known as JOLTS, showed Wednesday. Hiring declined to the lowest level since April 2020. Layoffs edged lower.

The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 8.82 million openings.

The easing in vacancies included declines in transportation and warehousing, government, business services, and leisure and hospitality.

The so-called quits rate, which measures people who voluntary leave their jobs as a share of total employment, ticked down to the lowest since September 2020. A moderation in quits may imply Americans are feeling less confident in their ability to find other jobs in the current market or to get new jobs that are better paid.

The data may help reassure Federal Reserve policymakers that a softening in the labor market will limit wage pressures and further slow inflation. After reporting troubles in expanding headcount throughout the pandemic, many employers are now scaling back hiring plans without resorting to outright job cuts.

The ratio of openings to unemployed people held at 1.4. The figure has eased substantially over the past year, indicating labor supply and demand has moved into better balance. At its peak in 2022, the ratio was 2 to 1.

Wednesday’s report is the first of an array of labor-market data due this week. The government’s jobs report on Friday is projected to show U.S. employers added some 170,000 positions in December, consistent with still-resilient labor demand that has been a key support for consumer spending.

Policymakers have said they are hopeful they can still pull off a so-called “soft landing” of the economy by taming inflation without a surge in unemployment.

Some economists have questioned the reliability of the JOLTS statistics, in part because of the survey’s low response rate.

Job openings in manufacturing fell to the second-lowest level since the start of 2021. A separate report from the Institute of Supply Management on Wednesday showed US manufacturing activity contracted in December for a 14th month.

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