Job openings, hiring fell in December

Hiring and job openings fell in December, providing more insight into why the labor market stumbled in the final month of last year.

Job openings dropped to 3.99 million in December, down from 4.03 million in November, which was more than a five-year high, the Labor Department reported on Tuesday.

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Meanwhile, hiring dropped off slightly to 4.4 million from 4.5 million in November, still below the 5 million level that would signal a healing job market.

Employers added only 75,000 jobs in December, revised up 1,000 in last week's jobs report, generating fresh concerns about the economy's health.

The Federal Reserve tapered its stimulus in December and January, but central bank chief Janet Yellen said Tuesday that the stance could change if the improvement falls off.  

Yellen told the House Financial Services Committee that while the economic recovery has picked up pace, the job market recovery is “far from complete."

“Those out of a job for more than six months continue to make up an unusually large fraction of the unemployed, and the number of people who are working part time but would prefer a full-time job remains very high,” she said.

"These observations underscore the importance of considering more than the unemployment rate when evaluating the condition of the U.S. labor market.”

In January, employers added only 113,000 jobs — fewer than expected and well below the average monthly gains of about 200,000. 

Some economists argue that the economy is taking a big turn toward stronger growth this year and could need to get through the first couple of months before showing any real progress. 

Still, the jobless rate fell to 6.6 percent from 6.7 as more people jumped back into the labor market, a positive sign.