Analysts had expected that the number of job openings for May would settle back down after a boom of nearly 10 percent in April. Instead, they rose again, from 4.5 to 4.6 million, according to the BLS' Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS).
That businesses continue to list more available positions lends additional evidence that the increase in employment reported in the last few jobs reports represents a significant improvement in the labor market, rather than an aberration.
The number of job seekers for every opening, according to the BLS, has plummeted in recent months to 2.1 in May, near the average ratio for the 2001-2007 expansion.
The bad news is that May's JOLTS data showed no sign of increased hiring. The total number of hires, adjusted for seasonal variation, edged down from 4.8 million to 4.7 million. That is up from roughly 4.5 million a year ago, and represents a continuation of the slow and gradual improvement in more job openings translating to faster employment.
With layoffs near the lowest level since the BLS began tracking them, hiring remains the missing factor in sustained net employment growth. The strength of June's jobs report is an indication that hiring is in fact picking up, but the lagging JOLTS May data does not show that improvement.
May's JOLTS also showed no further improvement in the quit rate, which is often interpreted as a gauge of workers' confidence in alternative employment prospects. Nevertheless, quits have improved significantly throughout the recovery.
The bottom line: Businesses are adding positions faster than the labor market can fill them. Whether that translates into faster job growth, or there's some structural factor preventing the currently unemployed workers from filling those jobs, will be seen in the months ahead.