There were 4.46 million job openings on the last business day of April, according to the BLS's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, the most since September 2007. The economy officially slipped into recession in December of that year.
April's number was a significant jump from March's 4.17 million openings and well above analysts' expectations for roughly 4 million. Openings peaked at just over 4.6 million during the height of the housing bubble.
The jump in job creation is good news for unemployed workers. The ratio of job openings to unemployed workers fell from 2.5 to 2.2, down from 3.2 a year earlier and nearly 7 at the worst of the crisis.
April's strong job creation, however, didn't translate into hiring. The number of hires rose by just 2,000 to 4.71 million.
Over the course of the recovery, hiring has lagged job creation.
Healthy hiring and labor market churn remain the missing factors in generating a strong employment recovery. The unemployment rate, at 6.3 percent in May, is still well above the roughly 5.5 percent level that officials at the Federal Reserve believe is consistent with the economy performing at its potential. Furthermore, there is a jobs gap of roughly 5.5 to 7 million, depending on the estimate, when the number of workers who have given up the job search and have fallen out of the official labor force are taken into account.
But layoffs and discharges reported by JOLTS, at roughly 1.5 million a month, are at the lowest level since the BLS began tracking them in 2000. Similarly, the Department of Labor reported Thursday that the four-week moving average of unemployment insurance claims fell to its lowest level since June 2007. With few firings taking place, the obstacle to job growth is slow hiring.
Quits also rose slightly in April. It's considered a sign of labor market strength when workers are willing to quit their jobs, because it indicates that they are confident of their prospects. Quits edged up 12,000 to 2.47 million in April, not enough to budge the quits rate, which remains slightly below its average level over the 2001-2007 economic expansion.
Nevertheless, Tuesday's JOLTS is evidence that the labor market continues to gather strength.