Finally -- Good Job News (Really)

At last--some real numbers that give us hope that the economy is recovering. There were 200,000 more job openings last month. The total number shot up from 2.5 million to 2.7 million job openings on the last business day of January 2010, according to the most recent numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's a 2.1 percent increase, and the highest the rate has been since this time last year.

As you might suspect, the sectors in which job openings increased last month were education and health services; professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; and trade, transportation and utilities. Those fields experiencing drops in job openings include construction, manufacturing, retail trade and government. Some of these drops can be attributed to harsh weather and post-holiday retail layoffs.

Numbers also just came out for the entire year, and showed that in 2009 overall, job openings actually increased in the fields of construction, durable goods manufacturing, wholesale trade, information, and federal government--which is to say there were more job openings in these fields in 2009 than there were in 2008. However, the job openings rate decreased over the 12-month period in retail trade and educational services.

Regionally, the Northeast and the West dropped jobs last month, while the South and the Midwest gained jobs.

So are people actually getting hired?

Well, the hires rate was unchanged in January, remaining at 3.1 percent. The rate has remained between 3.0 percent and 3.2 percent since November 2008. After falling from the most recent peak in January 2005 of of 5.6 million hires, the hires level reached a low point of 3.9 million in June 2009. In January 2010, the hires level was 4.1 million, and was essentially unchanged in January for all industries and all four regions.

Looking at the hiring numbers from a yearly perspective, over the 12 months ending in January, the hires rate was little changed for total nonfarm and total private sectors jobs, but fell for government jobs. The hires rate for 2009 increased for durable goods manufacturing and decreased for wholesale trade, health care and social assistance. It also decreased in the Southern region, while remaining mostly steady in the other three regions.

Meanwhile, the layoffs and discharges rate fell over the 12 months ending in January. Those industries in which the this rate fell include construction, durable goods manufacturing, nondurable goods manufacturing, wholesale trade, information, finance and insurance, real estate and rental and leasing, and other services. Regionally, the rate fell over the year in 3 of the 4 regions-Midwest, Northeast, and South.

So overall, there were fewer layoffs and more job openings last month than the month before, and in 2009 than in 2008. The numbers must continue to increase before we're able to claim actual prosperity again, but for now, at least they're headed in the right direction, all be it incrementally.

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