Still 5.4 Million US Job Openings in Latest JOLTS Report

Last Friday brought a solid report for unemployment and payrolls. But now that the economy is at or near the classic definition of full employment, the underlying trends and opportunities in the jobs market need to be considered. One such measurement that economists and the public should consider is the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, the so-called JOLTS report.

On Tuesday, the October 2015 JOLTS report was issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of job openings was roughly 5.4 million on the last business day of October. Hires and separations were little changed at 5.1 million and 4.9 million, respectively.

Within the separations, the quits rate was 1.9% for the seventh straight month. The layoffs and discharges rate was 1.2%. So, against separations and the broader economy, what exactly does 5.4 million job openings and a 3.6% job openings rate really mean?

For starters, the job openings decreased in professional and business services by 137,000, and the job openings in the West region fell by 132,000. The number of job openings rose over the 12 months ending in October for total nonfarm, total private and government positions. Job openings also rose in health care and social assistance by 225,000, retail trade by 141,000, state and local government by 51,000 and federal government by 15,000.

Job openings decreased over the year in finance and insurance by 55,000 and in mining and logging by 17,000.

The quits rate is very important here. This is where employees are comfortable enough to leave one job for another opportunity, for the prospects of something better or for a lifestyle change. In all cases, it is generally deemed to be the sign that the economy is healthy enough. Of the total 4.9 million separations in October, there were 2.8 million quits. The number of quits has now held between 2.7 million and 2.8 million for the past 14 months.

To get a feel for the overall job market, let’s take the number of job openings from above, knowing that it has a one-month lag. So what we do is go back to the weekly jobless claims report for the week of November 7 and look at the continuing jobless claims. This comes with a one-week lag and is what we call the army of the unemployed. This is the group of unemployed workers taking benefits for two weeks or more. Continuing claims were 2.174 million at the end of October, and the unemployment rate for insured workers was only 1.6%.

The end result is that the 5.4 million job openings is more than double the 2.174 million at the time in the continuing claims category, but there were 2.142 million who were unemployed for 27 weeks and longer. In October of 2015, there were also 1.916 million people marginally attached to the labor force, and some 5.767 million who were classified as part time for economic reasons.

It is not fair to just assume that one job opening can be filled by one unemployed person. There are skills, pay, geographic and other considerations. That being said, the labor force participation rate was just 62.4% at the end of October and ticked up one-tenth of a point in November.

There has to be some better matching capability out there to put those who can fill positions into those positions. Making it stick is another matter entirely.

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