The number of job openings in the U.S. fell slightly in June but remained at a level suggesting strong demand for workers.
Job openings slipped to 5.25 million in June, down from a record 5.36 million in May, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, known as Jolts.
Hires climbed to the highest level of the year at 5.12 million and the number of Americans voluntarily quitting their jobs climbed to 2.75 million from 2.73 million the prior month. The number of voluntary quits tends to rise when people are confident about job prospects.
Another 1.79 million people were laid off or discharged in June, down from 1.66 million in May.
“In other words, labor demand is still rising very rapidly, and is hugely elevated relative to the unemployment rate,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note to clients.
The main jobs report, out earlier this month, showed the unemployment rate at 5.3% in July and June. Nonfarm payrolls rose a seasonally adjusted 215,000 in July and 231,000 the prior month. The initial employment situation report only shows net job gains or losses, while the Jolts report offers additional details on the total number of hires, openings and separations.
Both reports are closely followed by officials at the Federal Reserve. Chairwoman Janet Yellen has said the rate of voluntary quitting is a key gauge of workers’ confidence in the economy. When the economy is stronger, workers are more likely to quit their jobs because it’s easier to find something elsewhere.
In recent months, the number of quits has held fairly steady and a gap between job openings and hires has opened, a mismatch that suggests employers haven’t been able to find workers with the desired skills at the salary on offer.
“While growth in job openings has cooled off in recent months, the key takeaway should be that the underlying health of the labor market continues to improve,” said Jeremy Schwartz, an associate at Credit Suisse. “The ratio of vacancies to unemployed workers continues to rise and is near precrisis peaks.”
Still, businesses haven’t responded with significantly higher wages. That may be because there’s still a ready pool of workers.
Despite 58 consecutive months of rising payrolls, 8.3 million workers were looking for a job but couldn’t find one in July, while others had given up looking or were stuck in part-time jobs but would have preferred a full-time position.
And the share of Americans participating in the labor force, at 62.6% in July, matched the lowest reading since 1977, a possible sign there’s a mismatch between job openings and job seekers.