Job Openings Crater and Quits Stay Frozen as Demand for Workers Declines

Could the long-awaited softening of the labor market finally be arriving?

Job openings in the U.S. fell to 8.7 million at the end of October, the lowest level in 28-months, the Department of Labor said Tuesday. At the end of September, U.S. employers had posted 9.4 million openings.

The openings figure came in below the 9.4 million expected. The numbers come from the Labor Dept.’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, known as JOLTS.

The number of openings is a sign of demand for labor and an increase in openings typically signals economic strengthening. In the post-pandemic period, however, demand for labor has far outstripped supply, driving the number of job openings much higher than typical. Last year, openings hit a record high 12 million.

The Federal Reserve has been hoping that inflation could be brought down by cooling demand for labor. Several officials have said that the best outcome would be for openings to decline without triggering a significant increase in layoffs or rise in unemployment.

The decline is likely to be interpreted as a signal that the Fed can avoid raising interest rates in the future and may be able to cut rates sooner.

The number of people quitting jobs is another important metric of labor market tightness. A rising number of quits indicates improved confidence on the part of workers that they can find better positions away from their current employer. Despite the fall in openings, this figure did not show further softening in November and was little changed at 3.6 million.

The openings figures suggest that different sectors of the economy are operating in different environments. Job openings fell the most in health care, real estate, hospitality, and retail. Those are areas of the economy that have had high levels of openings and hiring as they struggled to catch up to pre-pandemic levels. In recent months, they have reached or exceeded prepandemic levels, so the cooling of demand is not surprising.

Finance also had a significant decline in openings.

Information services, which saw a lot of hiring and openings during the pandemic and early on in its aftermath but then began to shed jobs as the Fed raised rates, is now apparently back in growth mode, with job openings increasing notably in October.

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