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Job Openings Hold Above 11 Million, Nearly 5 Million More Than the Total Unemployment Level

Chet Strange | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Job openings totaled 11.26 million in January, more than the 10.9 million estimate.
  • That brought the total vacancies to 4.75 million more than available workers.
  • The quits level, reflective of the so-called Great Resignation, declined to its lowest total since October.

Job openings outnumbered available workers by nearly 5 million in January, the latest sign of a historically tight employment picture, the Labor Department reported Wednesday.

Total vacancies actually dipped a bit, falling to 11.26 million following a substantial upward adjustment in December's numbers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey showed.

That still left job postings 4.75 million above the total counted as unemployed for the month.

The total was more than the FactSet estimate of 10.9 million.

Along with the slight decline in openings came a decrease in quits, or workers voluntarily leaving their jobs. The so-called Great Resignation ebbed for the month, with quits declining to 4.25 million, a drop of 3.4% and the lowest number since October. As a share of the labor force, the quits rate declined to 2.8% from 3% the previous two months.

Federal Reserve officials watch the JOLTS report for signs of labor slack. With the jobless rate at 3.8%, policymakers feel the economy is near full employment. Coupled with inflation running at 7.5%, the robust jobs market has set the stage for an expected series of Fed interest rate increases this year.

The gap between jobs and workers as a measure of the labor force is at 2.9% after falling from 3.2% in December, according to Goldman Sachs. The level is the highest in post-World War II history and "suggests strong wage growth will persist until improvements in labor supply and normalization of job openings bring the labor market back into balance," the bank said in a note.

Revised figures the Labor Department released along with Wednesday's report showed that last year's jobs market had considerably more openings than initially reported. December's count alone was revised higher by 523,000, part of aggregate changes that took the 2021 full-year total up by nearly 1 million. The revisions also brought quits higher by 442,000.

At the industry level, manufacturing saw a big gain in job openings, rising by 109,000 and taking the openings rate higher by 0.8 percentage point.

The closely watched leisure and hospitality industry saw a considerable decline for the month, falling by 314,000 or 1.8 percentage points.

The JOLTS report runs a month behind the department's nonfarm payrolls count. The February payrolls report showed the unemployment level fell further, to 6.27 million. Companies have struggled with a severe labor shortage, though total payroll numbers continue to get closer to their pre-pandemic levels as more jobs are filled.

For February, payrolls increased by 678,000, getting total employment to within 1.1 million of its February 2020 level.

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