By Alex Kowalski
WASHINGTON - Job openings in the U.S. increased in May, signaling some employers saw a need to take on staff even as the global economy slowed.
The number of positions waiting to be filled totaled 3.64 million, up 195,000 from a revised 3.45 million in April that was higher than previously estimated, the Labor Department said today in Washington. An increase in firings offset gains in hiring, the report also showed.
Increasing demand for workers may ease concern that American employers were cutting back as the European debt crisis and slowing growth in emerging markets like China reduced sales. At the same time, the pickup in dismissals helps explain why net employment gains cooled over the past three months.
“The recovery is not unraveling,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Penn., said before the report. “Still, we’re not out of the woods yet.”
The increase in job openings in May was broad-based, led by manufacturers and state and local government agencies, according to today’s report. Only employers in the arts and entertainment industry had fewer jobs available.
Hiring climbed by 148,000 to 4.36 million in May, pushing the rate up to 3.3 percent from 3.2 percent the prior month. Professional and business services, which include temporary-help agencies, and health-care providers saw the biggest increases in employment.
Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their jobs voluntarily, increased to 1.89 million in May from 1.74 million a month before.
About another 2.12 million people quit their jobs in May, little changed from 2.11 million the prior month.
In the 12 months ended in May, the economy created a net 1.8 million jobs, representing 51.1 million hires and about 49.3 million separations, today’s report showed.
Considering the 12.7 million Americans who were unemployed in May, today’s figures indicate there are about 3.5 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.
The openings report helps illuminate the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures, which were released last week.
Payrolls climbed by 80,000 workers in June, less than forecast in a Bloomberg News survey, after a revised 77,000 gain in May that was larger than initially estimated, the Labor Department said July 6. The jobless rate held at 8.2 percent.
Stocks fell following the release on concern hiring had shifted into a lower gear, which will restrain consumer spending and leave the economy more vulnerable to a global slowdown.
“Companies are hiring the minimum number of people needed to do the additional work that needs to be done,” Carl Camden, president and chief executive officer at staffing provider Kelly Services Inc., said last week on Bloomberg’s “Hays Advantage” with Kathleen Hays. “They are not making investments in new products, new ventures, new software beyond what they have to. They are not going to until there is more economic certainty, policy certainty, and the situation in Europe clears up.”
In a sign of further weakness, confidence among U.S. small businesses dropped in June to the lowest level in eight months. A net 3 percent of small businesses reported plans to take on more workers, down 3 percentage points from the prior month, according to the results of a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business released today.
Pockets of industry are ramping up hiring. Catalog Spree, which developed an application for mobile devices that allows users to browse and shop in catalogs has grown to between double and triple the size Chief Executive Officer Jaoquin Ruiz envisioned when he started the firm in April 2011. The Los Altos, Calif.-based company now employs 16 workers, up from 3 at the start, a number which may keep growing, Ruiz said.
“We’re going to continue hiring in order to both address our number of users in a more personalized fashion, which requires more minds at work, and our need for more content,” Ruiz said in a June 29 interview. “It is extremely challenging to find the right people.”