Job openings in the U.S. decreased in January to the lowest level in four months, a sign companies were cautious about hiring as the new year began.
The number of positions waiting to be filled dropped by 161,000 to 2.76 million after revisions of previous months’ numbers, the Labor Department said today in a statement posted on its website. The number of people hired fell as did the number of workers fired.
The unemployment rate is forecast to average 9.1 percent this year, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg last month, even as the jobless rate fell to 8.9 percent in February and job growth was the fastest in nine months. Hiring must accelerate faster, particularly among small companies, to help restore the more than 8.75 million jobs lost during the recession.
“Job openings are low and hiring has been weak,” Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan & Co. Inc. in New York, said before the report. “There is still cautiousness on the part of firms about hiring new people.”
Job openings decreased 5.5 percent in January from a revised 2.92 million in the prior month, the Labor Department report showed.
The decline in openings was led by 115,000 drop in openings at professional and business services, which include accountants, computer systems experts and temporary-help agencies. Government also had 115,000 fewer openings in January.
Construction showed an 18,000 increase in job openings, while trade, transportation and utilities had a 26,000 increase, and manufacturing went up 13,000, according to the data released today.
Vying for Openings
Compared with the 13.9 million Americans who were unemployed in January, today’s figures indicate there were 5 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007. The number of jobless fell to 13.7 million last month, pushing the unemployment rate down, the Labor Department reported March 4.
Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures. Private payrolls rose by 222,000 workers in February after a 68,000 gain the prior month, the Labor Department figures showed last week.
Employers took on 3.71 million workers in January, 193,000 fewer than the previous month, according to today’s report. Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their jobs voluntarily, decreased to 1.52 million from 1.68 million a month before.
A decrease in the number of people voluntarily leaving jobs may be one sign Americans feel less confident about finding other work. About 1.66 million people quit their jobs in January, representing 47 percent of all separations. That was down from 1.84 million, or 48 percent, in December 2010.
In the 12 months ended in January, the economy created a net 1 million jobs, representing about 47.3 million hires compared with about 46.3 million separations, today’s report showed.
Central bank policy makers will likely keep interest rates near zero and maintain plans to buy $600 billion in Treasury securities by June to boost growth as they await signs of sustained job creation. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said employment data are encouraging.
“We do see some grounds for optimism about the job market over the next few quarters,” Bernanke said March 1 during testimony before lawmakers. Still, the labor market “has improved only slowly,” and it may take “several years” for the unemployment rate to reach a “more normal level,” he said.
While higher fuel costs may be of concern for consumers, bigger paychecks thanks to the tax compromise reached by President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans in December are probably preventing demand from slipping for now.
Companies taking on staff include Atlanta-based Home Depot. The world’s largest home improvement retailer in February said it is hiring more than 60,000 temporary workers in the U.S., and adding permanent employees for the second year in a row.
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