US job openings climb to record high, layoffs hit all-time low

Job openings in the United States rose slightly to a record 9.2 million in May, government data showed.

Job seekers speak with recruiters at a Job News USA career fair in Kentucky, the United States, where there is a worker shortage at a time of high unemployment, a phenomenon baffling many economists [File: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg]
Job seekers speak with recruiters at a Job News USA career fair in Kentucky, the United States, where there is a worker shortage at a time of high unemployment, a phenomenon baffling many economists [File: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg]

Employers in the United States posted a record-high number of job openings for the second straight month, spotlighting persistent hiring challenges as a snapback in economic activity generates high demand for workers.

The number of available positions on the last day of May rose slightly to 9.2 million, the US Department of Labor’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) showed on Wednesday.

The number of Americans quitting their jobs decreased in May from a record high in April, but remains high at 2.5 percent or 3.6 million.

The percentage of workers getting laid off hit a record low in May, the JOLTS report said.

The data point to a tight job market. Employers, struggling to fill positions, are doing all they can to attract workers from offering higher pay to including hiring bonuses and other incentives in hiring packages.

Many workers, in turn, are feeling confident about leaving their current roles for better-paying opportunities at other firms.

The US unemployment rate remained elevated at 5.9 percent in June from 5.8 percent the previous month, the government reported last week.

Job gains picked up in June, government data showed, as companies added 850,000 jobs, the largest monthly increase since last August.

Hiring is picking up steam and coronavirus vaccine rates are continuing to climb, while COVID-19 restrictions, such as mask mandates and capacity limits in restaurants and venues, keep rolling back.

But the lingering effects of the pandemic are still keeping many potential workers out of the labour market and on the sidelines. A myriad of other factors such as childcare challenges may also be contributing to the worker shortage as well.

Some of those who have yet to return to the labour market are worried about catching the virus by being exposed to other people. Many older Americans also chose to retire earlier than they had planned pre-pandemic.

A worker shortage at a time when millions of Americans are unemployed has baffled some economists.

Some surmise that a $300 federal top-up in weekly unemployment aid has provided somewhat of a safety net for workers to hold off on going back to work until they find the right opportunity. Some states have already discontinued the benefit, which is set to expire across the US at the end of the summer.

According to the Department of Labor’s JOLTS data, jobs openings increased in restaurants and hotels, education, and healthcare. They dropped in the construction, finance, and transportation and warehousing sectors.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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