The level of job openings in the U.S. edged lower in September but was still well ahead of the total number of people looking for work, the Labor Department said Tuesday.
Vacancies edged lower to just over 7 million, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.
The JOLTS report measures the level of employment vacancies as well as those who have left their positions. The previous count, for August, showed a record high of 7.3 million openings, a number revised higher in the report Tuesday. Consensus estimates from FactSet had pointed to a slight decrease for September, but still at 7.125 million.
Despite the decrease, the level of openings still dwarfed the level of those considered unemployed, which was just under 6 million for September. The ranks of the unemployed moved up to 6.08 million in October, but the corresponding JOLTS data won't be released until next month.
"Since there is considerable volatility in the data, a one-month decline is little reason for concern — especially given the substantial upward revision the previous month," said Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace. "Anecdotally, companies have been hiring earlier than ever before ahead of the holiday season and new year. Overall, business demand for workers remains strong."
In addition to the decline in job vacancies, the "quits" rate, which measures those who left their jobs voluntarily and is seen as a sign of worker confidence, declined a bit from 3.65 million to 3.6 million. However, the quits rate, which compares those who left their jobs as a percentage of total employment, held at 2.4 percent.
Geographically, the quits rate rose one-tenth of a point in both the Northeast and South, to 1.7 percent and 2.9 percent respectively, fell substantially in the West from 2.5 percent to 2.2 percent, and edged lower in the Midwest from 2.6 percnt to 2.5 percent.
The latest JOLTS report comes amid a tightening labor market that features a brisk pace of hiring and the best wage gains since the post-recession recovery began in mid-2009. Nonfarm payrolls rose by 250,000 in October while average hourly earnings jumped 3.1 percent on a year-over-year basis.
Conditions in September remained tight, with 188,000 fewer vacancies in the private sector and a drop of 96,000 openings for government jobs. Health care and social assistance saw the biggest increase, with 71,000, while professional and business services saw a decline of 118,000 and finance lost 82,000.
Total hires also bounced lower off a record August, declining from 5.9 million to 5.74 million. Separations, which combines quits and fires, fell from 5.78 million to 5.67 million.
A separate Labor report showed that unemployment was lower in 308 of the 388 U.S. metropolitan areas, up in 58 and unchanged in 22.