3.2 Million Job Openings: 5 Things You Should Know About Them

What's not to like about the 3.21 million job openings that the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported? Well, it's down from 3.30 million openings the month before, but analysts aren't too concerned. The hiring rate rose to the highest level in nearly two years, from 4.29 million to 4.5 million hires, raising the rate of hiring to 3.4 percent -- the highest since August 2008.

Those numbers aren't huge when you consider there are more than 15 million qualified Americans unemployed at the moment, but baby steps are better than no steps at all. Here are five more things you should know about this week's numbers from the BLS:

1. The number of job openings has risen from this time last year.

Despite the slip in May, job openings have risen 37 percent from a low of 2.3 million in July of last year. The job openings level increased in many industries and in three of the four regions -- Northeast, South, and West. Still, they remain below their pre-recession levels.

2. We're still losing more jobs than we're gaining.

Companies are still laying off workers, although not at the same pace as last year. In May, there were 1.87 million layoffs, up from 1.76 million in April. Over the 12 months ending in May, hires totaled 49.4 million and separations totaled 49.9 million, yielding a net employment loss of 0.6 million.

3. We're better off in July 2010 than we were in July 2009, but not back to pre-recession days.

The number of job openings has risen by 868,000 (37 percent) since the most recent trough of 2.3 million in July 2009. Even with the gains since July 2009, the number of job openings in May 2010 remained below those in place at the start of the recession in every industry except government, and in each region except the Northeast.

4. Hiring rates are increasing in most fields and regions, but declining in a few.

The hires rate increased over the past 12 months in mining and logging, durable goods manufacturing, and federal government, and fell in wholesale trade. The hires rate increased over the year in the Midwest and South and was little changed in the other two regions.

5. The turnover, or separations rate, is holding steady.

Total separations includes quits (voluntary separations), layoffs and discharges (involuntary separations), and other separations (including retirements). The total separations, or turnover, rate remained at 3.1 percent in May for the fourth consecutive month. It's interesting to note that the number of people quitting is also about the same. The quits rate can be a measure of workers' willingness or ability to change jobs, so workers were no more or less confident in quitting last month than they were the month before.

For the most part, hiring and firing were at a standstill in May, and the number of jobs available dipped a tiny bit. It looks like the economy took a breather on its slow, steady climb toward recovery.

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