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Job openings blazed to a 14-year high in February, a signal that businesses might pick up the hiring pace after a winter slowdown.
Businesses listed more than 5.1 million jobs, up 168,000 from January and the most since January 2001, the Labor Department’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) showed Tuesday.
Although hiring slowed, layoffs dropped sharply, providing some evidence that businesses might have temporarily put the brakes on filling their openings because of the cold winter.
“The report generally corroborates that story, the recovery hasn’t stalled, but it isn’t doing much better than simply chugging along,” said Elise Gould, chief economist with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, in a blog post.
Hirings slipped to 4.92 million from 4.99 million, but maintained a 3.5 percent rate.
Meanwhile, layoffs fell 7.6 percent to about 1.6 million, the lowest level since November 2013, according to the report, which gives a broader look at the labor market with openings, hirings and firings.
Economists expect hiring will rebound after the setback this winter, although job gains may not match the torrid pace of last year.
A growing number of openings combined with a patient workforce waiting for better salaries could help boost wages, which have risen at an anemic pace during the recovery.
The slowdown also could be a sign that employers had some trouble finding workers with the skills they need.
A separate Friday report showed that employers added 126,000 jobs in March — the fewest since December 2013 — breaking a yearlong streak where gains exceeded 200,000 jobs a month.
The slowdown in hiring has been largely blamed on severe winter weather, as well as a stronger dollar and a sharp drop in oil prices, which failed to boost consumer spending.
Fewer people — about 2.7 million — left their jobs voluntarily in February, down 3.3 percent from January.
Still, that level is 10.2 percentage points higher than the same period last year, a sign that workers are more confident they can switch jobs.
The total number of unemployed workers fell to 8.7 million.
In February, there was about one job for every 1.7 unemployed workers, down from a peak of 6.8 people to one job in July 2009.