Job openings rose in July after two months of declines, a positive sign that companies could step up hiring in the coming months.
The Labor Department says the number of jobs advertised rose by 6.2 percent to 3.04 million. That's the highest total since April, when temporary census hiring inflated that month's figure. Even with the increase, total openings remain far below the 4.4 million that existed in December 2007, when the recession began.
The report, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, indicates heavy competition for jobs. In July, 4.8 unemployed people, on average, were vying for each opening. That's an improvement from the peak of 6.3 in November 2009. But it's far more than the 1.8 unemployed people competing for each opening when the recession began.
The JOLTS report illustrates how much job churn the U.S. economy experiences each month: Companies and government agencies, including the Census Bureau, hired 4.2 million people in July. At the same time, 4.4 million people were laid off, quit or retired that month.
Total hiring remains weak and is down from a monthly total of 5 million people in December 2007. Layoffs, meanwhile, have risen moderately for the past two months but are still at pre-recession levels, the report shows.
"It is the lack of hiring that largely accounts for the 'recession feeling' in the job market," said Henry Mo, an economist at Credit Suisse.
Among industries, education and health services and leisure and hospitality showed the biggest increases in job openings.
The education and health sectors posted 533,000 jobs in July, up from 487,000 the previous month. Restaurants and hotels advertised 310,000 openings, up from 263,000.