Job openings bounce back in September after August dip

FILE – A hiring sign is displayed in Deerfield, Ill., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. On Tuesday the Labor Department reports on job openings and labor turnover for September. U.S. job openings rose unexpectedly in September 2022, suggesting that the American labor market is not cooling as fast as the inflation fighters at the Federal Reserve hoped. Employers posted 10.7 million job vacancies in September, up from 10.2 million in August, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Economists had expected the number of job openings to drop below 10 million.(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

U.S. job openings rebounded in September after plunging in August, according to federal data released Tuesday, despite pressure from high inflation and interest rates.

American businesses posted 10.7 million open jobs by the final day of September, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS) report, up from 10.1 million in August.

While hires fell from 6.3 million in August to 6.1 million in September, businesses also laid off fewer workers.

The number of workers who left their jobs voluntarily — typically to take gigs with better compensation or career opportunities — also stayed largely even last month. The percentage of those workers who left their jobs voluntarily, also known as the quits rate, remained at 2.7 percent.

“After the shock of last month’s report, the September JOLTS data is returning to a familiar story: demand for workers remains robust. By all the key metrics in this report, the labor market is resilient,” wrote Nick Bunker, head of economic research at Indeed Hiring Lab, in a Tuesday analysis.

“Job openings still vastly outnumber unemployed workers, the quits rate remains elevated and layoffs are still well below pre-pandemic levels. Some energy has been sapped from the labor market, but it keeps on running,” he wrote.

The September JOLTS report is the latest sign of how strong the U.S. job market remains despite the Federal Reserve’s attempts to weaken it.

Workers had enjoyed historic power over employers for much of the recovery from the COVID-19 recession as the number of open jobs rose well above the number of Americans in search of work. There were nearly two open jobs for each unemployed American in September, according to the Labor Department. That gave workers leverage to demand higher wages and take jobs with better benefits elsewhere.

While the strong job market has helped millions of American rebound from the pandemic-driven recession, it has also been one of many factor fueling high price growth.

As employers boosted wages to attract workers and struggled to stay adequately staffed, they have raised their prices for goods and services to compensate. The shock to food and energy prices driven by the war in Ukraine and lingering supply chain issues have also added pressure to household and business budgets.

The Fed has rapidly boosted interest rates since March in the hopes of cooling off the labor market. Higher interest rates slow the economy, which could force businesses to keep wages lower and prevent workers from bouncing around in search of better jobs.

Some experts believe the September JOLTS report, despite its top-line strength, showed signs of the Fed’s rate hikes working.

Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecuiter, argued that a bounty of open jobs with major corporations obscured a steep decline in postings by smaller firms and companies within the finance and insurance sectors. She said the relatively small declines in hirings and quits are still more important signs of where the labor market is going.

“The number of job openings rose in September, partly offsetting the large decline in August, according to the JOLTS report out today. But make no mistake: the labor market is cooling,” Pollak wrote.

Skanda Amarnath, executive director at research nonprofit Employ America, added that the decline in the private sector quits rate from 3 percent in August to 2.9 percent in September was another sign of the labor market cooling.

“The trend in the total number of voluntary job separations suggests that labor market turnover is declining. If wage growth is a response to such dynamics, it suggests that such pressure can and is currently cooling,” he wrote on Twitter.

Updated at 11:13 a.m.


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