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This is a great time to look for a job

  • The government's latest tally of unfilled positions found that the number of job openings hit another record level in July, as employers continued to scramble to find qualified workers.
  • The surge in unfilled openings means there is roughly one jobless worker for each job posting, down from seven workers per opening during the depths of the Great Recession.
  • In a separate survey released Tuesday, by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, owners of small companies report that job vacancies are as hard to fill as they've been in 16 years.
  • The tight labor market is being felt across a wide range of industries, from health care to leisure and hospitality.
A job applicant (L) talks with a recruiter for Sears at a job fair in Golden, Colorado.
Rick Wilking | Reuters
A job applicant (L) talks with a recruiter for Sears at a job fair in Golden, Colorado.

This is a great time to look for a job.

The government's latest tally of unfilled positions found the number of job openings hit another record level in July, as employers continued to scramble to find qualified workers.

As a share of overall employment, the job openings rate remained at a record high of 4 percent in July, according to the Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS report, released Tuesday.

The surge in unfilled openings means there is roughly one jobless worker for each job posting, down from seven workers per opening during the depths of the Great Recession.

"The simple fact is that firms are hiring but are having massive problems finding workers in an ever-expanding economy," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors.

In a separate survey released Tuesday, by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, owners of small companies report that job vacancies are as hard to fill as they've been in 16 years.

The tight labor market is being felt across a wide range of industries, from health care to leisure and hospitality.

Some 70 percent of construction firms are having a hard time filling skilled trade jobs that make up the bulk of the construction workforce, according to the results of a recent industry-wide survey from the Associated General Contractors of America.

More than half the contractors surveyed said they were having a hard time finding carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers and concrete workers. The shortages are the most severe in the West, where 75 percent of contractors are having a hard time filling positions, followed by the Midwest (72 percent), the South (70 percent) and the Northeast (63 percent).

"In the short-term, fewer firms will be able to bid on construction projects if they are concerned they will not have enough workers to meet demand," said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer for the Associated General Contractors.

The JOLTS report follows a disappointing employment report earlier this month showing that the economy added 156,000 new payrolls in August, the slowest pace in five months. Job growth may also be dampened this month by back-to-back hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which closed businesses from Texas to Florida. The two states account for about 14 percent of U.S. employment.

Temporary unemployment from the flooding from Harvey has already created a surge in the latest weekly count of first-time applications for jobless benefits.

Despite the tight labor conditions signaled in the JOLTS survey, the competition from employers looking to fill jobs has yet to put upward pressure on wages. But if the pace of hiring remains strong, some economists think that may soon change.

"The latest surveys suggest that firms will soon have to increase the pay they are offering if they want to hire additional workers," said Andrew Hunter, U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

But until wages begin rising more rapidly, many workers may be content to stay put, according to Naroff.

"With companies unwilling to bid for workers from other firms, there is little reason to leave, and that is limiting the availability of qualified workers," he said.

The strong showing in unfilled jobs will likely encourage policymakers at the Federal Reserve to keep tightening monetary policy this year despite an inflation rate that is running lower than central bank's 2 percent target.

As the unemployment rate, at 4.3 percent last month, has fallen to historic lows, Fed officials have been closely watching for signs that wage pressure may be building.

Some economists have argued that the labor market may be weaker than that headline number, given the large pool of discouraged workers who gave up looking for a job after the Great Recession and are only now re-entering the workforce.

But reports such as Tuesday's JOLTS survey will likely give Fed policymakers more reason to continue nudging interest rates higher from record low levels, according to John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York.

"Employers need skilled labor, and experienced workers are in short supply, which continues to suggest the economy has returned to a relatively normal labor market that does not need exceptional support from the Fed," he said.

— Reuters contributed to this article.

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