The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday that the number of job openings increased slightly from December to January, from 3.91 to 3.97 million. Hires fell from 4.58 to 4.54 million. Both numbers are well below their prerecession numbers. Hires, in particular, regularly clocked in at more than 5 million over the course of the mid-1990s economic expansion.
And there were few hints in the BLS' Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey that January's weak results were the product of bad weather that has been blamed for a recent spate of bad economic news rather than underlying problems in the economy. Hiring picked up in some weather-sensitive industries, such as construction, and in the South, which suffered some of the most unusually harsh winter conditions.
Although labor market churn — the pace of job creation and separations — has picked up steadily over the course of the past few years, there are no signs of an accelerating recovery.
The ratio of unemployed workers to job openings, a measure of overall slack, is only now near the lowest levels it reached in the wake of the bursting of the dot-com bubble:
And the quits rate, which can be used as an indicator of labor market health because it represents workers voluntarily leaving their jobs, is also only now nearing the worst rates seen before before the housing bubble collapse:
The pace of hiring has been fast enough to bring the headline unemployment rate down a full percentage point over the course of the past year.
But millions of workers lost their jobs and gave up looking for work during the recession, meaning that they are not included in the headline unemployment rate. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, taking such discouraged workers into account, there are about 6 million Americans who need jobs.
As businesses create more openings and hire more workers, that backlog should be reduced, raising the labor force participation rate and ultimately cutting into the high number of long-term unemployed workers.