US Job Openings Jump to 14-Year High; Sign of Strong Hiring

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By Christopher S. Rugaber

WASHINGTON (AP) - The rapid hiring that made 2014 a stellar year for job gains is showing no sign of slowing down.

U.S. employers advertised the most job openings in nearly 14 years in November, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That suggests businesses are determined to keep adding staff because they are confident that strong economic growth will continue to create more demand for their goods and services.

Job openings rose 2.9 percent to 4.97 million in November, the most since January 2001. More job vacancies generally lead to more hiring. Employers have been slow to fill their openings for most of the recovery, but that started to change last year as companies ramped up their overall hiring.

Job openings have soared over the last year. The fact that they continue to rise suggests companies are still determined to hire even after adding a large number of jobs in 2014. With the unemployment rate lower, employers may be forced to offer higher pay in order to attract the workers they need, though there is little sign that wages have started to rise yet.

"The surge in the number of job openings since last spring is nothing short of spectacular," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a note to clients. Should such increases continued, "the greater is the chance the wage pressures intensify."

The healthy data echoes last Friday's jobs report, which showed that employers added a net total of 252,000 jobs in December, capping the best year for hiring since 1999. Nearly 3 million more people started earning paychecks in 2014. That drove the unemployment rate down to 5.6 percent, the lowest in more than six years, from 5.8 percent.

Yet average hourly wages slipped in that report, and they have only increased 1.7 percent in the past year. That's barely ahead of the 1.3 percent inflation rate.

Tuesday's data is from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, which provides a more detailed look at the job market than the monthly employment report. It includes figures for overall hiring, as well as the number of quits and layoffs. The monthly jobs figures are a net total of job gains or losses.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has cited the levels of quits and hires as key indicators of job market health. She and other Fed officials are monitoring those trends as they consider when to raise short-term interest rates from near-zero levels. Most economists forecast that won't happen until the middle of next year.
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