U.S. job openings unexpectedly slumped, falling to a two-year low in December, which could reflect weaker demand for hiring as an increasing share of the population joins the workforce.
The number of available positions decreased by 364,000 to 6.42 million, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, released Tuesday. That compares to the median forecast for a modest gain to 6.93 million. The quits rate held at 2.3% for a fourth month.
The second-straight monthly decrease capped the first annual decline since 2009. It was also the biggest two-month drop in percentage terms since 2009.
- The decline in job openings may be a sign of softening hiring demand ahead, but other factors, such as a rising participation rate, may be at play. While the labor market remains strong by most measures, openings have pulled back from their record level in late 2018.
- The composition of the report showed that the decline in openings was broad based. Retail openings and manufacturing both fell to the lowest since mid-2017, while transportation sector openings fell to a two-year low.
- The decrease also spanned all four national regions, led by a 176,000 drop in the South, the biggest region.
- Total openings exceeded the number of unemployed Americans by 670,000, the narrowest since early 2018.
- Hiring climbed for a second month, to 5.91 million, as separations ticked up to 5.73 million.
- The JOLTS report lags a month behind the Labor Department’s jobs report, which showed U.S. hiring in January exceeded projections with 225,000 jobs. The report on openings adds context to monthly employment figures by measuring dynamics such as resignations, help-wanted ads and hiring.
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