Latest Jobs Data Point to Uncertain Labor Market

Job openings continue to be relatively scarce, while workers who have jobs are reluctant to give them up, according to figures from this morning's report on job openings and labor turnover from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The report showed 3.56 million job openings as of the last day of September, down from an upwardly revised 3.66 million openings in August, and hiring levels fell by 265,000 jobs to 4.19 million in September, leading to a drop in the hiring rate to 3.1%. But the so-called "quit rate," which measures how many workers left their jobs voluntarily as a percentage of the total workforce, fell from 1.6% in August to 1.5% in September.

The report showed some marked differences among regions. Job openings in the South fell most sharply, while the Midwest region actually gained 69,000 job openings. Hirings rose by 56,000 jobs in the Northeast but fell most sharply in the Midwest, with a loss of 162,000 jobs. Quit rates were highest in the South as well at 1.8%, while the Northeast came in at just 1.2%.

Looking across industries, professional and business services jobs showed the steepest declines in job openings, while gains in retail trade as well as education and health services helped offset the overall decline. The hiring figures showed strength in construction, but all the other reported industries showed declines. Drops in job openings came both from the public and private sectors, with government job openings falling at a slightly faster rate than private businesses. That led to quit rates that were much lower for government workers than for private workers.

Overall, the report raises some concerns because the numbers aren't as optimistic as recent figures on nonfarm payroll growth. Ideally, in a healthy job market, employers would increase the number of openings as they search for more workers. Moreover, workers would feel more confident that they could quit a job and land a better one easily.

The next report on job openings and labor turnover is scheduled to be released Dec. 11.


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