Job Openings Report: More Questions about the 7.8% Unemployment Report

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its monthly job openings report showing that there were some 3.56 million job openings on the last business day of August. The BLS said that this was “essentially unchanged from July,” but it was technically down from 3.59 million job openings in July.

If the job openings were by and large unchanged (and even a tad lower) as of the last day of August, then the ongoing questions and challenges about the validity from last Friday’s magic drop in the unemployment report are only going to get more ammunition.

The hires rate of 3.3% and the separations rate of 3.3% were little changed in August. The BLS said that the JOLTS report includes estimates of the number and rate of job openings, hires and separations for the nonfarm sector by industry and by geographic region.

Job openings were mostly static in all industries except accommodation and food services, where the numbers decreased. Another issue is that the number of openings was also little changed in all four regions. As the BLS generally tries to paint a positive picture, it did at least say that the level of total nonfarm job openings in August was up from 2.4 million at the end of the recession in June 2009.

Job openings increased over the year in the Northeast and the South regions; gains were seen in nondurable goods manufacturing, wholesale trade, finance and insurance and federal government, but fell in mining and logging.

The last business day of August is a full month ahead of the end of September, and the BLS can show that in its defense. What may be hard to defend is that most job openings remain open and are not generally filled immediately. Today’s data show some additional caution in trusting that the unemployment really fell to 7.8% from 8.1% in September.

JON C. OGG

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