Job Openings Tick Lower in Latest Report

After each monthly unemployment report, there is another look at the jobs economy. The U.S. Department of Labor releases its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary. This so-called JOLTS report comes with a one-month lag, but it shows a detailed picture of the nation’s job openings and the total separations for a more clear look into the actual strength of the workforce.

After the preliminary reading of 6.6 million job openings on the last business day of July, the August level of openings was listed as 6.5 million. Over the course of the month, the number of job openings fell by 242,000 in the private sector and was deemed “little changed” for the government jobs. There also was little difference between the seasonally adjusted and the unadjusted reporting.

Hires were classified the same with the “little changed” notation at 5.9 million after having decreased to 5.8 million in July. An increase in hires was tied to federal government hiring, with 246,000 that was largely tied to the 2020 Census hiring.

Total separations decreased to 4.6 million in August, versus a preliminary 5.0 million in July. Within separations, the quits rate was 2.90%, and the layoffs and discharges dropped to a series low rate of 1.0%.

Tuesday’s Labor Department report also noted that job openings decreased by some 68,000 in construction and 25,000 in information. The number of job openings decreased in all regions, but the Midwest region was highlighted here. Another issue was that the total openings decreased in a number of industries: accommodation and food services (−177,000) and in transportation, warehousing and utilities.

A key aspect of each JOLTS report is the so-called quits rate. This is people who are leaving their job, and it signals the willingness of the workforce to leave their existing job for another opportunity. The number of quits ticked lower by 139,000 to 2.8 million in August and that brought the quits rate to 2.0%. The number of quits increased by 36,000 in finance and insurance, and the number of quits decreased in the Midwest region.

Over the year, the number of quits was down 838,000 to 3.6 million. While that is an unadjusted number, it shows the difference between the labor market in 2020 and 2019. The largest decreases in the quits rates annually were in accommodation and food services and also in professional and business services. For the year-over-year number, the quits rate was lower in all four regions.

More data on the 2020 jobs market versus 2019: The 70.4 million total hires was far short of the 77.4 million total separations. That comes to a net employment loss of 7.0 million versus August 2019, but that figure also includes workers who may have been hired and separated more than once during the year.

The JOLTS report is rarely a market-moving one like the unemployment and payrolls report, and it comes with that one-month lag. Still, the report highlights the strength of employer job openings and the willingness of the workforce to look for different positions.