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US job openings unexpectedly grew in August

<i>Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters</i><br/>An employee hiring sign with a QR code is seen in a window of a business in Arlington
Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters
An employee hiring sign with a QR code is seen in a window of a business in Arlington

By Alicia Wallace, CNN

Minneapolis (CNN) — The number of job openings at US employers unexpectedly jumped in August, a testament to the continued resilience of the labor market, according to new data released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There were an estimated 9.61 million open jobs in August, according to seasonally adjusted data from the BLS’ latest monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report. That’s up from July’s upwardly revised estimate of 8.92 million openings.

The consensus estimate from economists was for 8.8 million openings, according to Refinitiv.

Some of the biggest increases in postings were in professional and business services, finance, other services and nondurable goods manufacturing, according to the report.

While August’s uptick in openings bucks a three-month decline, the number of available jobs as estimated by JOLTS remains considerably lower than the record high of 12.03 million set in the spring of 2022. Year to date, openings are averaging 9.74 million per month, BLS data shows.

Additionally, data from online employment sites show that job postings have already fallen to, and in some cases below, pre-pandemic levels, Julia Pollak, chief economist of ZipRecruiter, told CNN.

“That [JOLTS] series is very zigzaggy; because it’s based on such a small sample, there’s quite a lot of statistical noise,” she said. “So, we shouldn’t read too much into one month either way. The longer-term trend is a gradual return to pre-pandemic levels.”

Closely watched metrics stay the course

Other key measurements of labor movement tracked as part of the JOLTS report showed minimal movement.

The number of new hires ticked up to 5.86 million from 5.82 million in July, the number of workers quitting their jobs increased to 3.64 million from 3.62 million and layoffs held steady at 1.68 million.

“The big fear here is that we decrease openings and that we increase layoffs at the same time, and that would mean that a lot of folks are out of work,” Layla O’Kane, research director and senior economist for labor market research firm Lightcast, told CNN. “So I think that having layoffs stay about the same is a really good sign for workers in general.”

Those JOLTS metrics and other measures of labor market tightness do indicate that August’s openings figure may be a “one-month blip” and that those should continue their modest descent in the coming months, she said.

“We looked at [indicators] like employers offering sign-on bonuses, offering additional training, retirement benefits or tuition benefits — other things that employers use when there’s a really tight labor market and they’re trying to get workers,” she said.

Those declined in August, she noted.

Critical data ahead

Also, despite the increase in openings, the uptick in people returning to the labor force in August means that there are still 1.5 open jobs for every unemployed person looking for one, BLS data shows. While it’s down from the 1.7 seen this time last year, it’s still above what was seen pre-pandemic, when it hovered between 1 and 1.2 jobs per job seeker.

Federal Reserve officials have frequently pointed to the robust labor market, particularly the imbalance of job postings to job seekers, as a key factor in helping to lower inflation.

“The Fed’s massive rate hikes are absolutely crushing it when it comes to core consumer inflation, but the labor market has escaped the wrath of tighter monetary policy with job openings erasing the soft spot for job offerings seen at the start of summer,” said Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at FwdBonds.

Investors balked at the unexpected rise. Stocks fell in morning trading, with the three major indexes dipping into the red and the Dow dropping more than 350 points.

Plenty more labor market data is to come this week: ADP will release its September private-sector payrolls and wages report on Wednesday, the latest jobless claims and monthly job cuts reports are due out Thursday and the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report for September lands Friday morning.

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