Job openings surge to a record 6.3 million, Labor Department says

  • Job openings jumped to a record 6.3 million, according to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey report.
  • The JOLTS report is closely watched by the Federal Reserve as an indicator of future employment conditions.
  • Professional and business led the way in new openings with 215,000, while transportation, warehousing and utilities added 113,000 and construction added 101,000.

Job openings in the U.S. surged to a record 6.3 million, according to the most recent count from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of new positions surged by 645,000 as of the end of January, a new high for the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The metric gets close attention from Federal Reserve policymakers when gauging the economy and the appropriate monetary policy response.

The report suggests slack remains in the labor market, as employers continue to hire and the pool of available jobs grows.

Most of the openings came in the private sector, which saw 608,000 new positions. The jobs openings rate increased to 4.1 percent, identical to the unemployment rate.

Professional and business led the way in new openings with 215,000, while transportation, warehousing and utilities added 113,000 and construction added 101,000.

The key "quits" rate, which mostly measures the amount of workers who left jobs voluntarily, edged lower to 3.27 million, from 3.34 million in December. Professional and business services accounted for a good share of the decline in quits, from 747,000 to 676,000.

Quits are considered a proxy for worker confidence and mobility — representing either those who are moving on to better positions or are leaving their jobs with confidence that opportunity awaits. They are a component of the larger "separations" category in the JOLTS report.

Layoffs and discharges rose a bit, from 1.66 million in December to 1.76 million in January.

The release comes amid a strong time for job creation.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 313,000 in February and 239,000 in January, part of a run where the Labor Department's official count has been above 200,000 for four of the past five months and six of the last eight.

In addition to the job creation, the labor force participation rate rose 0.3 percentage points to 63 percent, tied for the highest level since March 2014. Those counted as not in the labor force plunged by 653,000 in February, while the labor force increased by 806,000.

The unemployment rate has been at 4.1 percent since October, its lowest reading since December 2000.

Fed officials look at the JOLTS report as an indicator of future employment conditions and worker confidence. The central bank is expected to hike its benchmark interest rate target, which is tied to most consumer debt, by a quarter point at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting next week.

WATCH: A look at trends and opportunities in the jobs market.