The latest job openings and labor turnover survey (JOLTS) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that there were 6.436 million job openings in America in September (lagged release). That was little-changed from August’s downward-revised print but slightly worse than anticipated. Hiring was a bit more mixed in September, with gains in the accommodation and food services (+137,000), wholesale trade (+73,000), and transportation, warehousing, and utilities (+46,000) sectors helping offset losses in the retail trade (-105,000) and educational services (-23,000) arenas. Higher-frequency data from Indeed based on online job listings suggests that the rebound in openings continued through the first half of November despite elevated economic uncertainty related to the election and ongoing pandemic. There is still a long way to go, though, because total job vacancies remain roughly 13 percent lower compared to this same period last year.
Most of the weakness continues to be concentrated in the service sector, which is much more sensitive to lockdowns and other virus-related activity restrictions, although postings for jobs that facilitate “getting things to people,” e.g. loading, stocking, driving, and delivery jobs, are actually well above year ago levels. In terms of regional trends, location appears to matter a lot less than population because job listings remain down the most (compared to pre-COVID levels) in large metropolitan areas due to a combination service sector clustering and more widespread remote work availability. Moreover, job postings are encouragingly continuing to trend in the right direction in cities of all sizes, but towns with fewer than half a million people have clearly experienced the swiftest recovery. Shifting the focus back to the Labor Department’s report, perhaps the most important takeaway from this week’s employment data deluge is that the ratio of quits to layoffs and discharges has surged to an all-time high. This increased willingness to give up current job security for better employment opportunities reflects rising confidence in the labor market as well as more Americans feeling emboldened by stronger household balance sheets to make such moves. Altogether this means that the recent uptick in business owners’ complaints about tight labor markets and rising wage pressures is unlikely to reverse any time soon.
Sources: Econoday, U.S. DoL, Indeed, FRBSL