Job openings hit 15-year high in February

By Yimian Wu

U.S. job openings in February reached the highest level since January 2001, while the numbers of hires and quits fell slightly compared with January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, job openings rose 3.4 percent from January to 5.1 million in February. That compared with 4.1 million in February last year, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report released Tuesday.

Job openings continued to decline for a full year after the recession in winter 2009 before showing steady gains over the past five years.
Job openings continued to decline for a full year after the recession hit bottom in winter 2009 before showing steady gains over the past five years. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Yimian Wu/Medill)

Professional and business services, education and health service, and trade, transportation and utilities are the industries that offered largest number of job openings.

The Midwest saw a 6.8 percent month-to-month increase of job openings, the biggest increase among the four regions of the country.

“The JOLTS report for February was positive and reflects a strengthening labor market, but it is important to remember that the data is lagged one month and we already know of a weak employment report ahead for March,” BBVA Compass’s Senior Economist Kim Chase said in an email.

She referred to last Friday’s job report that the economy added only 126,000 jobs in March, far below the 235,000 job creations estimated by economists according to Bloomberg. Also, the unemployment rate stayed at 5.5 percent.

However, Stan Shipley, macro research analyst at Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, said the JOLTS report suggested that last Friday’s weak payroll report for March is probably an “aberration” and “not a start of a trend.” He also blamed the poor weather and the West Coast ports strike for the slightly falling hires and quits in February.

In the JOLTS report, there were 4.9 million hires in February, a moderate decrease of 78,000 compared with January. Industries with more job openings also had more hires, except trade, transportation and utilities, which had a 5.6 percent increase in job openings yet a 3.1 percent decrease in hires. The numbers of layoffs and discharges fell to 1.6 million from 1.7 million.

The number of quits decreased slightly to 2.69 million from 2.78 million in February, reflected in all industries across the private sector. However, the government sector saw increasing quits. Six thousand employees quit their jobs in the government sector in February.

Over the 12 months ended in February 2015, total hires came to 59.3 million and separations totaled 56.1 million, yielding a net employment gain of 3.2 million.

Photo at top: Professional and business services offered the biggest number of job openings in February. (Yimian Wu/Medill)