Jobs

Job openings slide by more than half a million as the labor market tightens

Key Points
  • Job openings fell by 561,000 in November to 6.8 million, the lowest since February 2018.
  • Total vacancies still exceed the unemployed by nearly 1 million, according to the latest JOLTS report.

Job openings plunged to their lowest level in nearly two years as hiring surged in November and the employment market got tighter, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Total vacancies tumbled by 561,000 to 6.8 million for the month, the lowest since February 2018, according to the government's Job Openings and Labor Market Turnover Survey. Despite the big drop, openings still outnumbered Americans considered unemployed by nearly 1 million. The vacancy rate nudged down to 4.3%.

The big decline in openings came during a month when nonfarm payrolls increased by 256,000, the best total since January. Total hires increased by 39,000 though the rate was unchanged at 3.8%.

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On an industry basis, the biggest drops in job openings came in retail, which decreased by 139,000, and construction, which was down 112,000.

"Common sense should tell you that indeed, after an eleven-year run of economic growth that many companies have hired all the help they need for now," Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, said in a note. "Today's sharp reduction in jobs available may be telling us that the economy has finally reached full employment."

The quits rate, or the total employees who left voluntarily, rose for the month by 39,000, though the rate as a measure of workers stood unchanged at 2.3% from October. The quits rate is considered a strong gauge of worker mobility as it reflects confidence that employees can find other work.

Separations also were little changed, with a drop of 4,000 keeping the rate at 3.7%. Layoffs and discharges fell 46,000 and the rate declined to 1.1%.

Payroll growth tailed off in December, however, with the department's first estimate showing 145,000 new jobs. The JOLTS data has a one-month lag, so December's job openings are not available.