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Number of job openings fall in August to 5.4 million, an eight-month low

An employee sands the edge of a composite engine case part at the GE Aviation manufacturing facility in Batesville, Mississippi.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An employee sands the edge of a composite engine case part at the GE Aviation manufacturing facility in Batesville, Mississippi.

Monthly job openings fell to an eight-month low in August to 5.4 million, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday.

That's a rate of 3.6 percent, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS). Economist expected monthly job openings in August to be 5.72 million, according to estimates by Reuters, down from 5.87 million last month.

The professional and business services industry led the largest decrease at 223,000. Hires and separations changed little at 5.2 million and 5 million, respectively, the department said.

The report from the Labor Department — often closely watched by Fed chair Janet Yellen — is a key barometer of economic conditions, measuring job postings in different sectors, and the number of hires and layoffs.

The quits rate was 2.1 percent and the layoffs and discharges rate was 1.1

"These data can be volatile and the openings rate is still fairly high, so it is too early to tell whether this is a signal or just the noise of volatile monthly data," John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics, told Reuters.

"However, if this drop is sustained, it could be a sign of increased caution on the part of businesses," he said.

Job growth is slowing, with nonfarm payrolls increasing 156,000 in September. Employment growth this year averaged at 178,000 jobs per month, down from an average gain of 229,000 positions per month in 2015, according to Reuters.

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— Anita Balakrishnan and Reuters contributed to this report.