Job openings in the U.S. climbed in November to the highest level in more than five years, a sign the labor market was picking up before the pause in the final month of 2013.
The number of positions waiting to be filled increased by 70,000 to 4 million, the most since March 2008, from a revised 3.93 million in October, figures from the Labor Department showed today in Washington. The pace of hiring was little changed, and more Americans quit their jobs.
A faster pace of hiring lays the ground for the income gains needed to spur consumer spending, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the economy. Data last week showed payrolls in December grew at the slowest pace since January 2011, indicating a temporary cooling in the job market that partly reflected bad weather.
“Employment is going to remain fairly strong going forward,” Jim OâSullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York, said before the report. “Employers will at least maintain the pace of hiring, and probably step it up a bit.”
Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures. The gain in openings indicates employers were gaining confidence in the economic expansion, a sign last month’s hiring slowdown may have been weather-related.
Payrolls expanded by 74,000 workers last month after a revised 241,000 gain in November that was larger than initially estimated, the Labor Department reported on Jan. 10. The jobless rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December, the lowest level since October 2008, as more people left the labor force.
Today’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, report showed the number of people hired edged up to 4.49 million in November, keeping the hiring rate at 3.3 percent.
Some 2.43 million people quit their jobs in November, the most since September 2008 and up from 2.38 million the prior month. The quits rate, which shows the willingness of workers to leave their jobs, rose to 1.8 percent, the highest in five years, from 1.7 percent.
Federal Reserve policy makers viewed the increases in nonfarm payroll employment in October and November and the decline in the unemployment rate as “encouraging signs of ongoing improvement” in labor market conditions, and also made note of quits, according to minutes of the December meeting released on Jan. 8.
“Several cited other indicators of progress in the labor market, such as the decline in new claims for unemployment insurance, the uptrend in quits, or the rise in the number of small businesses reporting job openings that were hard to fill,” the central bank said.
The JOLTS report is among data monitored by Janet Yellen, who will replace Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke on Feb. 1.
The report also showed total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, decreased to 1.46 million, the fewest in records going back to 2000, from 1.5 million a month before.
In the 12 months ended in November, the economy created a net 2 million jobs, representing 53 million hires and 51 million separations.
Job openings climbed at construction companies, health-care firms and hotels and restaurants.
Considering the 10.8 million Americans who were unemployed in November, today’s figures indicate there are about 2.7 people vying for every opening compared with about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.
December payrolls data released last week also showed private employment, which excludes government agencies, rose by 87,000 after a gain of 226,000 the prior month.
Automakers, coming off their best sales year since 2007, are expanding staff. Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Motor Co. (F:US), the second-largest U.S. automaker, plans to add 5,000 jobs in the U.S. as it introduces 16 new vehicles in North America this year.
Fed policy makers, who this month began to cut monthly bond purchases to $75 billion from $85 billion, have cited improvement in the labor market. They also have pledged to keep borrowing costs low.
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