U.S. Job Openings Hit New High -- Update

By Jeffrey Sparshott Features Dow Jones Newswires

The number of U.S. job openings hit a new high in April while hiring slowed, a sign that employers are struggling to find workers.

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The number of job openings rose by 259,000 to 6.04 million, the Labor Department said Tuesday, the highest level recorded since the government started tracking the figure at the end of 2000. The number of hires, meanwhile, fell by 253,000 to 5.05 million in April.

"The sharp rise in openings while hirings fell provides some indication that labor markets have tightened so much as to suggest we may be facing a shortage of qualified workers," said Raymond Stone, an economist at Stone & McCarthy Research Associates, in a note to clients.

The latest figures came in the Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, known as Jolts. The survey, more detailed but dated than the main monthly jobs report, tracks the pace at which people start jobs, quit jobs, or are laid off, and the number of job openings.

Tuesday's report showed the number of layoffs inched down by 71,000 to 1.59 million, and the number of people quitting a job slipped 111,000 to 3.03 million. Workers are more willing to quit their job when they are confident they can easily find another.

The U.S. economy has been advancing at a historically slow but broadly steady pace through the current expansion, spurring a long stretch of hiring. Now, some economists are surmising that the ranks of Americans who are unemployed or out of the workforce may not have the skill set employers are demanding of their employees.

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That would lead to a slowdown in hiring, something borne out in Jolts and other recent employment data. The unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in 16 years in May, the Labor Department's main employment report said last week, while job creation cooled. The economy has added an average 121,000 jobs over the past three months, about two-thirds of the growth rate recorded last year.

"I think the skills mismatch between what workers have and what employers are demanding might be weighing on the labor market," said Michael Pugliese, an economic analyst at Wells Fargo.

To be sure, other labor market measures indicate only limited competition for workers. Average hourly earnings, for example, were up 2.5% from a year earlier in May, the same annual rate they have been stuck near since late 2015. The gains are historically weak.

That may partly reflect job growth that has tilted toward lower-wage fields. The April Jolts report showed the largest growth in openings in accommodation and food services -- hotels, restaurants and the like.

All together, the labor market has added a net 2.2 million jobs over the 12-month span through April.

Write to Jeffrey Sparshott at jeffrey.sparshott@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 06, 2017 12:21 ET (16:21 GMT)