US job openings fall, hiring rises in mostly solid report on labour market

WASHINGTON – The number of available jobs in the U.S. fell in March, though companies filled more of their open positions in a sign they are still confident enough to hire.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that job postings dropped 2.9 per cent to just under a seasonally adjusted 5 million in March. Meanwhile, total hiring ticked up 1.1 per cent to 5.1 million, the most since December.

Despite the drop in job openings in March, there are still many more open positions than a year ago: That figure has increased 18.6 per cent in the past 12 months.

And there were other positive signs in the report. Increased hiring is welcome because even as companies have advertised more jobs, they have not been filling them as quickly. That has raised concerns that employers are having trouble finding the workers with the right skills, or that they aren’t willing to pay enough find the workers they need.

The number of people quitting their jobs rose to 2.78 million, roughly matching February’s total, which was the highest in nearly seven years. More quits are a good sign because workers typically quit when they have a new job, usually at higher pay. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has said that she considers the quits data an important barometer of the job market’s health.

“The broader trends in the data still look pretty upbeat,” Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan Chase, said in a note to clients.

The figures also underscore that lacklustre job gains overall in March reflected a temporary slowdown. Employers during the month added the fewest jobs since June 2012, and the economy likely contracted in the first three months of the year. That data has raised concerns that the economy was slipping into a new phase of sluggish growth.

Instead, businesses ramped up hiring in April and added 223,000 jobs, according to last week’s jobs report. The unemployment rate fell to 5.4 per cent, the lowest in nearly seven years.

The figures reported Friday are a net figure: Jobs gained minus jobs lost. The data reported Tuesday, in the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, are more detailed. They calculate total hires, as well as quits and layoffs. Tuesday’s numbers also reflect data for March, and are a month behind last week’s jobs report.

The JOLTs report provides some clues about what happened in March when net hiring fell so sharply. Overall hiring increased that month, but layoffs soared 6.2 per cent to nearly 1.8 million. That increase in job cuts is a major reason that net hiring fell.

The biggest jump in layoffs occurred in the Midwest, where the oil and gas industry have shed thousands of jobs. A slowdown in manufacturing has also increased layoffs. Factory production has fallen because of the strong dollar, which makes U.S. exports more expensive.