U.S. job openings unexpectedly climbed to a near-record high in October, as employers struggled to attract new workers amid an ongoing labor shortage.
The Labor Department said Wednesday there were 11.03 million job openings in October, the highest number of openings since July, when businesses were looking to fill 11.1 million positions. It marked an increase from September, when there were an upwardly revised 10.6 million open jobs.
Accommodation and food services – one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic – accounted for a bulk of the job openings jump with 254,000 new available positions as the delta variant of COVID-19 showed signs of slowing down nationwide.
"Businesses continue to hire at a brisk pace," said Scott Murray, Nationwide financial markets economist. "Still, firms are creating new positions, and quitting remains high. As a result, finding qualified workers remained a challenge, a headwind for the recovery."
The government report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, also showed the number of people quitting their jobs fell slightly in October to 4.2 million, from 4.4 million in September. While it's still the third-highest number of monthly resignations on record, the decline suggests that the so-called "Great Resignation" is losing steam.
There were just 7.4 million Americans counted as unemployed in October, meaning there are roughly 3.6 million more available jobs than there are available workers. As a result, businesses are chasing down workers to fill the empty slots – meaning that job-seekers have more bargaining power than they've had in decades.
"Workers are heading for the exits in search of greener pastures and work-from-home opportunities," Murray said.
Wages are rising at a healthy pace, although the highest inflation in decades has eaten away at some of those gains.
A separate survey released by the Conference Board on Wednesday shows that companies are setting aside 3.9% of total payroll for wage increases next year – the steepest one-year jump since the 2008 financial crisis. The estimate is up from April, when the Conference Board projected that companies were budgeting for a 3% pay increase.
On top of projecting higher salaries in 2022, businesses are already raising wages for their employees. The survey showed that average actual raises in 2021 climbed from the April survey period to November. The average business raised its salary budget by 3% in 2021 so far, up from 2.6% in April.