Job Openings in U.S. Unexpectedly Rose to a Three-Month High

U.S. job openings unexpectedly rose in October to a level that’s consistent with a gradual improvement in the labor market as employers seek to adjust headcounts against a backdrop of changing demand and coronavirus infection dynamics.

The number of available positions increased to 6.65 million during the month from a revised 6.49 million in September, the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, showed Wednesday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists was for 6.3 million vacancies. Openings that involve workers recalled from layoffs or positions that are only offered internally are not counted in the figure.

Some 3.09 million quit their jobs in October, while the number of layoffs and discharges increased to 1.68 million from 1.44 million a month earlier.

The number of vacancies has leveled off after surging in the three months immediately following the depths of the pandemic. In industries most impacted by the virus, employers are challenged both by demand uncertainty and churn as some workers quit because of health-safety concerns.

The recent trend in job openings is also consistent with more subdued payroll growth. In November, employment slowed considerably, according to separate Labor Department data that also showed more people leaving the workforce altogether.

Job vacancies increased in health care, construction and manufacturing, the JOLTS report showed. Openings improved more moderately in leisure and hospitality and federal government. They fell in retail and business services.

Openings picked up in all four U.S. regions, including 2.61 million vacancies in the South that was the most since January.

The number of hires, which includes rehired employees, was little changed at 5.81 million in October after 5.89 million a month earlier. The hires rate decreased to 4.1% from 4.2%.

Separations, which include layoffs and quits, rose to 5.11 million from 4.84 million, and the rate of layoffs and discharges climbed to 1.2% from 1% in September, the first increase since March.

Competition among those looking for work remains elevated, with 11.1 million unemployed Americans in October, leaving 1.66 jobless workers vying for every job opening during the month. That stands in contrast to a two-year trend before the pandemic during which job vacancies exceeded the number of unemployed.

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