Job openings edged down in August after surprising rebound from pandemic shutdowns

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The number of job openings dipped by 100,000 to 6.5 million in August, the Labor Department reported on Tuesday.

Total vacancies are well off pre-pandemic levels despite a strong rebound earlier in the summer, indicating that the economic recovery is still underway but not as strong as needed to return to normal.

“After a few months of being surprisingly strong, job openings have slowed down,” said Nick Bunker, the director of research for the Indeed Hiring Lab. “This is a sign that while labor demand held up more than we may have expected early in the recovery, that pace is not guaranteed to continue.”

Job openings decreased in a number of industries in August, with the largest decreases in accommodation and food services and in transportation, warehousing, and utilities.

In March, the month that the economy shut down to slow the spread of the virus, there were just over 6 million job openings. As the economy suffered through the shutdown, openings dropped to 4.9 million in April but started to increase as businesses began to reopen. In May, openings totaled 5.3 million, and in June, they were just above 6 million.

The Labor Department defines a job opening as a position that is available but not filled on the last business day of the month.

Tuesday’s report, called the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, also showed that the economy continues to suffer from a net employment loss on the year.

Over the 12 months ending in August, hires totaled 70.4 million, and separations totaled 77.4 million, yielding a net employment loss of 7.0 million.

The food services sector decreased its hiring by over 170,000 in August. Meanwhile, the federal government added 246,000 jobs, largely because of temporary census hiring. Total separations, including quits, layoffs, discharges, and other separations, were 4.6 million in August, which since July is lower by 394,000.

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