Job openings decreased as 2020 neared a close, with the biggest hit coming to the battered hospitality industry as the Covid pandemic surged.
Total positions opened decreased by 105,000 in November, a 1.6% drop from October and a 3.9% fall from a year earlier, according to the Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey released Tuesday.
Leisure and hospitality took an especially hard hit, with a slide in job openings and a sharp increase in layoffs and overall separations.
Though the report runs a month behind the department's nonfarm payrolls count, the JOLTS tally is watched by policymakers for indications of tightness in the labor market.
In all, there were 6.63 million openings for the month, compared with the 10.74 million workers the government considers unemployed. The net payrolls gain of 336,000 remained relatively brisk for the month, though growth ended in December with a decline of 140,000.
The JOLTS report indicated that the slowdown in vacancies came primarily in hospitality, where bars, restaurants, hotels and casinos have taken a hit from the economic restrictions that officials have imposed to combat Covid. Case counts have continued to rise despite lockdowns and other restrictions.
Leisure and hospitality openings fell to 801,000 for the month, down just 16,000 from October but off 17% from the same period in 2020.
At the same time, layoffs increased sharply, rising 17.6% from October to 1.68 million.
The separations rate rose for the month as 271,000 workers lost or left their jobs, a 3.8% rate compared with 3.6% in October. The gain was due primarily to the leisure and hospitality rate, which surged to 8.2% from 5.8%. The rate is computed by dividing the number of separations by total employment and multiplying by 100.
On a monthly basis, the biggest job opening declines came in durable goods manufacturing (-48,000), information (-45,000) and educational services (-21,000.)
The quits rate, a proxy for workers' confidence that they can find new jobs, was little changed for the month at 2.2%. However, leisure and hospitality saw a sharp gain in that metric, rising to 4.7% from 4.3% as workers in the industry transition to other professions. Within the industry, accommodation and food services rose to 5% from 4.5% in October.
Hires overall were little changed on the month at a 4.2% rate. Again, leisure and hospitality saw a sharp drop, from a 7.8% rate to 7.3% to the lowest total level since August.