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Employers advertised more jobs in September than at any other point in the past three years, a hopeful sign that companies may step up hiring.
Businesses and governments posted 3.35 million job openings, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That's a 7 percent increase from August and the most since August 2008, one month before the financial crisis intensified.
Even with the gain, there's heavy competition for each job. Nearly 14 million people were out of work in September, which means an average 4.2 unemployed workers were competing for each opening. That's slightly better than August, but it is still more than twice the 2 to 1 ratio that economists say is healthy.
Companies typically take from one to three months to fill a position. So the increase in postings suggests hiring could pick up in the coming months.
Job openings have rebounded from a decade low of 2.1 million in July 2009. Still, there were 4.4 million openings in December 2007, when the recession began.
The economy added 158,000 net jobs in September. Hiring slowed a bit in October, as employers added only 80,000 jobs, the fewest in four months. Still, the unemployment rate dipped in October to a six-month low of 9 percent, from 9.1 percent, because more people said they found jobs.
And October may end up looking better if the government revises the job totals, as it did with the August and September figures.
Initially, the government said employers added zero jobs in August. The department now says there was a net gain of 104,000 jobs that month. September was also revised sharply higher.
The modest improvement in the job market reflects a pickup in economic growth. The economy grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in July-September quarter, its best quarterly growth in a year. In the first half of this year, the economy expanded at the slowest pace since the Great Recession ended in June 2009.
Consumers boosted their spending significantly in the third quarter, compared to the April-June quarter. Americans spent more even in the face of fears of a new recession and wild gyrations in the stock market.
But it's not clear the greater spending is sustainable, adding to companies' worries about future growth. People have been dipping into savings to finance their spending, and that may not last.
Without more jobs and pay raises, consumers are unlikely to keep increasing their spending. Consumer spending is important because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.