US job openings rise in June, but still below pre-pandemic level

Rise in vacancies was accompanied by workers quitting jobs likely because of COVID-19 fears and lack of childcare.

Job seekers apply for jobs in San Francisco, California, United States, where job openings rose 518,000 to 5.9 million on the last day of June, the Labor Department said in its monthly report  [File: Robert Galbraith/Reuters]
Job seekers apply for jobs in San Francisco, California, United States, where job openings rose 518,000 to 5.9 million on the last day of June, the Labor Department said in its monthly report [File: Robert Galbraith/Reuters]

United States job openings increased in June, but the surge in vacancies was accompanied by a rise in workers quitting their positions at hotels, restaurants and bars, likely because of fears of exposure to COVID-19 and problems securing child care.

Despite the increase in vacancies reported by the Labor Department on Monday, job openings remained below their pre-pandemic level, supporting the view that it could take the labour market years to recover from the public health crisis.

“Perhaps the rise in job openings is less about adding additional workers, but backfilling positions from workers who quit positions due to concerns about the virus, lack of childcare options, or similar reasons,” said Nick Bunker, director of research at Indeed Hiring Lab.

“An increase in quitting is usually a sign of worker confidence in the health of the labour market. Right now, it’s hard to see workers feeling quite so confident with unemployment in the double digits.”

Job openings, a measure of labour demand, rose 518,000 to 5.9 million on the last day of June, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS. Vacancies were below their level of seven million in February.

Opportunities to find work as unemployment benefits have been reduced, however, remain relatively scant, with three unemployed workers for every job opening.

Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities

There were an additional 198,000 job openings in the accommodation and food services industry. Vacancies also increased in the healthcare and social assistance sector. Overall, the job openings rate rose to 4.1 percent from 3.9 percent in May.

The number of people voluntarily quitting their jobs increased 531,000 to 2.6 million. Those quitting jobs in the healthcare and social assistance industry rose by 106,000, while the jump in the accommodation and food services sector was 104,000. The retail sector saw an increase of 99,000 quitting.

The quits rate, which under normal circumstance is viewed by policymakers and economists as a measure of job market confidence, increased to 1.9 percent from 1.6 percent in May.

Scant job opportunities

The JOLTS report followed on the heels of news last Friday that the economy created 1.763 million jobs in July, decelerating from a record 4.791 million in June. The economy has regained 9.3 million of the 22 million jobs lost between February and April. There were 16.3 million unemployed last month, though 31.3 million were on jobless benefits in mid-July.

With June’s vacancies, there were three people per job opening.

“Opportunities to find work as unemployment benefits have been reduced, however, remain relatively scant, with three unemployed workers for every job opening,” said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A $600 weekly unemployment benefit supplement expired at the end of July. President Donald Trump on Saturday signed an executive order to extend the supplement, though he reduced the weekly cheque to $400, and it is unclear when those benefits might start.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading largely higher. The dollar was steady against a basket of currencies. US Treasury prices were mixed.

The JOLTS report showed hiring dropped by 503,000 jobs to 6.7 million in June. Hiring was still at the second-highest level since the government started tracking the series in 2000.

Hiring fell in the healthcare and social assistance sector, as well as in construction. It rose by 255,000 in professional and business services, and 78,000 in accommodation and food services.

Overall, the hiring rate fell to 4.9 percent from an all-time high of 5.4 percent in May.

“Another day, another labour market statistic that just doesn’t make sense,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “Incredibly, bars, restaurants, and hotels want to hire 719,000 workers in June, where before the pandemic shut down the country they wanted to hire 815,000. Biggest recession in almost a century and there is no change in the hiring plans of leisure and hospitality industries.”

Source: Reuters

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