This week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data on job openings for the month of September. Openings were down slightly from the month of August — 7.009 million openings in September as compared to 7.293 million in August. However, the August numbers showed a record high number of job openings, and therefore September evidenced a labor market that remains very strong. Sectors with the largest number of openings include business services, healthcare, and retail, accommodation, and food services.
The job opening rate, the number of job openings divided by the total number of jobs and openings, also fell slightly from its August highs. However, like the job opening numbers, the job opening rate for the month of September came in at a strong 4.8 — just one tenth of a point below the August high of 4.9. Among the industries with the highest number of openings, the highest opening rates were in accommodation and food services, healthcare, and professional and business services. In other words, these three industries not only have many open positions, but also produce open positions at a high rate relative to their overall size in the economy.
Further evidence of a strong labor market can be found in a layoff rate that continues to be very low, at 1.3% for private sector workers. This rate remains close to the all-time low of 1.1%.
Unemployment claims for the week of November 3 were down to 214,000. This number is far below any average that economists believe is indicative of a strong labor market. The low number of first-time unemployment claims is evidence that not only are there a large number of jobs available (high level of job openings and high job opening rate), and that the labor market is stable (low layoff rate), but also that the jobs held open are sufficient to entice a very large proportion of the labor force.
One significant reason for this enticement is undoubtedly the continued growth in wages. Average hourly earnings rose 0.2 percent in the Month of October, pushing the 12-month average over 3%.
In all, the labor market in the US continues is robust and appears to be on a strong foundation. The unemployment rate and unemployment insurance claims are near record lows, and job openings are near record highs. The labor market is tight, wages are rising, and, most impressively, there are more job openings (7.009 million) than there are unemployed persons (6.1 million).