Job openings fell to a five-month low in April and showed their sharpest percentage decline in about seven and a half years, according to a government report Tuesday that helped confirm a slowdown in the labor market.
The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, indicated 3.4 million job openings at the end of April, an 8 percent decline from the previous month.
The pace of total hiring also slowed, with 160,000 fewer jobs filled during the month.
Moreover, the drop showed weakness across the employment spectrum, with manufacturing seeing 62,000 fewer job openings and construction dropping by 2,000.
"Given the global economic slowdown and the impact a growing economy had on the fortunes of the sector on the way up, that is a worrying statistic and goes hand-in-hand with regional Fed surveys and is consistent with weakness in recent payroll readings," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak in New York.
Hiring rates remained virtually unchanged for the year, while the "quits rate," which gauges the willingness of workers to change jobs, also remained unchanged and was at 2.1 million, up from the 1.8 million at the official end of the recession in June 2009.
"The reading for April job openings offered by employers retreated sharply from its highest since July 2008, validating claims that the sharp slowdown in the labor market is a major threat to the economic recovery," Wilkinson said.
Leisure and hospitality, which had been leading job growth, saw 3,000 fewer openings, while government job openings fell 42,000 amid belt-tightening particularly at the state and local levels.
The numbers come just two weeks after the government reported a paltry 69,000 new jobs created in May and sharp downward revisions to the previous two months, while the unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent.
Federal Reserve policy makers also could view the trend as reason to enact more quantitative easing measures to boost the economy. The Fed's Open Markets Committee begins is two-day meeting today.
"The U.S. economic news remains somber," said economists at Goldman Sachs, which predicts the Fed will announced another round of easing this week.