Job openings rise in April as labor market recovery continues

Job openings hit their highest level in April since before the recession started as the labor market showed steady improvement through the spring.

Employers posted about 4.5 million jobs, up from 4.2 million in March, the largest number of listings since September 2007, the Labor Department reported on Tuesday. 

While the increase is positive, the economy finally recovered last month all of the 8.7 million jobs lost during the economic downturn, hiring needs to ramp up to make a dent in the jobless rate and drive a stronger recovery.

There were 4.7 million hires in April, little changed from March. 

The hires rate (3.4 percent) and separations rate (3.3) were unchanged while, within separations, the quits rate (1.8 percent) and the layoffs and discharges rate (1.2 ) also were unchanged in April.

The private sector continues to rack up most of the jobs gains as government hiring remains muted. 

Meanwhile, there were 4.5 million total separations in April, unchanged from March. 

Economic Policy Institute economist Heidi Shierholz argued that if job opportunities were really ramping up, the rate of hires and quits would have risen, but neither of these measures has made any sustained improvement in the last half year.

"For a full labor market recovery to occur, two key things need to happen: Layoffs need to come down, and hiring needs to pick up," she wrote in an analysis.

"Hiring is the side of that equation that, while slowly improving, has not yet come close to a full recovery."

She said that there are more than 10 percent fewer hires each month than there were before the recession began.

The category to watch closely for signs of a strong labor market recovery is with voluntary quits.

"A larger number of people voluntarily quitting their job indicates a labor market in which hiring is prevalent and workers are able to leave jobs that aren’t right for them and find new ones," she said.

"Voluntary quits, while slowly improving, are also nowhere near a full recovery."

All told, job openings increased over the year in three of the four regions: Midwest, Northeast, and West while falling in the South.