U.S. job openings remained high in April before hiring slowdown

NEW YORK – United States job openings remained near a record in April, signaling demand for workers was firm ahead of weaker hiring in the following month that’s raised concerns the economy is slowing.

The number of positions waiting to be filled dipped by 25,000 in April to 7.45 million, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, released Monday. The quits rate held at 2.3%, matching the highest level of the economic expansion and suggesting workers remain confident in their ability to find a job.

Key insights

Total vacancies exceeded the number of unemployed Americans by 1.63 million, a record in data since 2000. That may support the idea that part of the reason behind May’s hiring slowdown owed to employers’ difficulty finding qualified workers amid the lowest jobless rate in a half-century. However, openings may ebb in coming months as slowing economic growth and uncertainty around President Donald Trump’s trade policies lead companies to postpone hiring and investment decisions. Labor Department figures released Friday showed U.S. employers added 75,000 jobs in May, the fewest in three months, after a downwardly revised though still-strong 224,000 advance in April. The four-month average gain was the slowest since 2012, suggesting the labor market is showing signs of strain. The quits rate has held at 2.3% since June 2018. The most recent report showed 3.48 million Americans left their jobs, up slightly from the prior month. Federal Reserve officials watch the rate for signs of upward pressure on worker pay that may feed into inflation.

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Hiring edged up to 5.94 million while separations also climbed, to 5.58 million. Professional and business services showed a decline in total job posts while construction and manufacturing saw increases. Although it lags a month behind other Labor Department data, the JOLTS report adds context to monthly employment figures by measuring dynamics such as resignations, help-wanted ads and hiring.

Reade Pickert is a reporter for Bloomberg News.