U.S. employers advertised slightly fewer jobs in October, a modest decline from a three-year high hit in the previous month.
Companies and governments posted 3.3 million jobs in October, down from 3.4 million in September, the Labor Department said. October's level was the second highest in the past three years.
"Despite the retreat, the ... report still indicates that the labor market is heading in the right direction," Henry Mo, an economist at Credit Suisse, said in a note to clients.
Even so, there is heavy competition for each job. Nearly 14 million people were unemployed in October, which means there was an average of 4.25 people out of work for each available opening. That's worse than September's ratio of 4.14.
Job openings have rebounded from a decade low of 2.1 million in July 2009. But they are well below the 4.4 million advertised in December 2007, when the recession began.
Nationwide, the job market improved in November. The unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent from 9 percent, and employers added a net gain of 120,000 jobs. Still, half the drop in the unemployment rate occurred because many of those out of work stopped looking for jobs. When that happens, they are no longer counted in the unemployment rate.
Layoffs also fell in October, the report showed, to the lowest level since January.
More openings do not necessarily mean more jobs. Even though job openings rose 12 percent in the past year, hiring has increased only 4.5 percent, the Labor Department report shows.
Some employers are likely pickier about who they hire than they have been in the past, economists say. They have more choices, since unemployment has been above 8 percent for nearly three years.
In some high-skill industries, such as engineering or information technology, companies could be having trouble finding workers with the right skills. Some economists say companies aren't offering high enough pay to attract workers they need or are unwilling to train applicants who aren't a precise fit.
Recent data shows the job market is improving a bit. In the past three months, job gains have averaged 143,000 per month. That's an improvement compared to the average of 84,000 in the previous three months.
And the number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell earlier this month to its lowest level in nine months, the Labor Department said last week.
Firms are hiring more as the economy shows signs of improving. Factories are expanding, consumers are spending more and buying more cars, and Americans' incomes rose by the most in October in seven months.
Separately, the ManpowerGroup said Tuesday that more U.S. employers plan to hire in the first three months of 2012, according to its quarterly survey.
Its net employment outlook rose to a seasonally adjusted 9 percent, from 7 percent in the current quarter. That's the highest it's been since 2008, when the recession took root. But that's still far below the 20 percent that the index averaged from 2003 to 2007.
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