WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. employers advertised slightly fewer jobs in August than July, while they filled the most positions in three months, offering a mixed signal for the job market.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that job openings dropped by 32,000 to 3.56 million in August. July's openings were also revised lower.

In a positive sign, employers hired 4.39 million people in August -- the most since May.

The number of available jobs has jumped about 63% since the recession ended three years ago. It remains well below the more than 4 million jobs a month advertised before the recession.

The job market remains very competitive. With 12.5 million people unemployed in August, there were 3.5 unemployed people, on average, competing for each open job. In a healthy economy, that ratio is 2 to 1.

The figures come after a surprisingly positive jobs report on Friday. That report showed that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8% last month from 8.1% in August.

It was the first time in more than 3.5 years that the rate fell below 8%. And it fell because a government survey of households found that 873,000 more people had jobs, the biggest jump since January 2003.

Still, the gains were mostly because of an increase in part-time jobs.

Employers added 114,000 jobs last month, according to a separate survey of businesses. While only a modest increase, the government said hiring was much stronger in July and August. From July through September, employers added an average of 146,000 a month. That's more than double the average monthly job growth during the previous three months.

Even with the gains, hiring must be stronger to bring relief to the more than 12 million people who are unemployed. Roughly 100,000 new jobs are needed each month to keep up with the working-age population.

The economy is growing too slowly to create more jobs. The economy expanded at an annual rate of 1.3% in the April-June quarter, down from 2% in the first three months of the year. Most economists expect growth to remain at a sluggish pace of around 2% for the rest of the year.

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