US job openings hover near record, but fewer workers quit

Fewer Americans are telling their bosses ‘I quit’, but the economy remains awash in jobs that are going begging.

United States employers have been offering better pay and benefits to lure scarce job seekers, but some economists see this year's wage growth cooling [File: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP]

The United States economy is still awash in jobs, government data showed on Wednesday, but fewer Americans are telling their bosses “I quit.”

The latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) from the US Department of Labor showed job openings rose by 431,000 in October to 11 million – within a hair’s breadth of the all-time high of 11.1 million reached in July.

But the number of Americans quitting their jobs fell by just over 200,000 in October to 4.2 million – pulling that metric down from its all-time high reached in September.

Customer-facing accommodation and food services saw the largest increase in job openings, while state and local government excluding education saw the biggest decrease.

On the quits side, transportation, warehousing and utilities saw the largest fall in workers heading for the exits, while state and local government excluding education saw the biggest rise.

The sheer number of jobs going begging in the US has put workers in the driver’s seat for the first time in decades, with many businesses boosting wages and sweetening benefits to lure scarce job hunters.

But the financial cushion from federal coronavirus-pandemic aid that allowed workers to be more choosy about what position they take is dwindling after federal unemployment benefits expired in September.

While the US created a disappointing 210,000 jobs last month, the number of people either working or actively looking for a job edged up to 61.8 percent.

Though average hourly earnings (AHE) continued to increase last month, wages are not rising fast enough to keep up with inflation. And some economists see this year’s wage growth slowing down.

“The decline in the quits rate may have contributed to the sequential slowdown in AHE growth in October and November, and supports our view that wage growth will cool now that enhanced unemployment benefits have expired,” said economists at Goldman Sachs in a note to clients on Wednesday. 

To what degree average hourly earnings will cool is an open question. A survey of 48 economists published on Monday showed nearly two-thirds of them expect wage increases to keep inflation elevated over the next three years.

The US economy is still roughly four million jobs shy of regaining its pre-pandemic level from February 2020 – and that does not account for growth in the labour force.

A number of factors are believed to be contributing to the current shortfall in available workers, from fear of contracting COVID-19, to older workers opting to take early retirement, to Americans simply deciding to stop working for someone else and opening their own businesses instead.

Source: Al Jazeera