By Eric Morath
Job openings reached a record level of 8.1 million at the end of
March, reflecting a widening gap between open positions and workers
willing and able to take those roles.
Available jobs rose by a seasonally adjusted 600,000 in March to
exceed the prior record of 7.6 million set in November 2018, the
Labor Department said Tuesday. Data from job search site Indeed.com
separately showed job posting continued to rise in April, ending
the month 24% higher than February 2020's pre-pandemic level.
The Labor Department said the highest rate of open jobs was in
the South, while the strongest growth in openings was in the
Northeast. Government and private data showed increasing openings
in construction, manufacturing and hospitality.
The growth in available jobs came as hiring cooled to a
seasonally adjusted 266,000 in April from a gain of 770,000 the
prior month, the Labor Department said last week.
"Employers are looking to hire, but temporary factors are making
people a little hesitant to take jobs," said Nick Bunker, an
economist at Indeed. The growing number of available jobs "shows
how difficult it is to turn openings into hires."
The Labor Department's job openings data dates back to 2000. The
rate of openings, or available jobs as a share of all filled and
unfilled positions, was also a record at 5.3% in March. That is
above the pre-pandemic peak of 4.8% in late 2018, when the
unemployment rate approached a 50-year low.
Regionally, the South maintained the highest openings rate, at
5.5% in March. That region broadly has had fewer restrictions and
reopened from pandemic-related restrictions ahead of other parts of
the country. The openings rate in the Northeast rose to 5.4% in
March from 4.7% the prior month. New York and other states in the
region have more recently acted to ease restrictions. The West had
the lowest openings rate, 5.1%, but that was well up from
There were still more unemployed Americans -- 9.7 million in
March -- than open jobs, but there are several factors economists
see for why workers aren't taking available positions. Those
include expanded unemployment benefits, fear of contracting
Covid-19 and a lack of child care.
Some unemployed workers may not have the skills or desire to
take available jobs in fields such as manufacturing, which added
134,000 available jobs in March, or construction, which added
Openings in accommodation and food service rose by 185,000 in
March to nearly one million. However, average hourly wages in that
sector, $16.63 an hour in March, was in line with what many people
receiving unemployment benefits receive, and workers often start at
A lack of available workers for restaurants could also reflect
that prospective employees found better-paying jobs at warehouses
and other employers, Mr. Bunker said. Average wages in the
warehouse industry were more than $22 an hour in March, and there
were about 350,000 jobs available in the broader transportation,
warehousing and utilities sector.
Mr. Bunker said that pandemic-related unemployment benefits and
partially remote schools -- two factors restraining labor supply --
should be temporary. A $300 enhancement to weekly jobless benefits
and a nearly 18-month extension of payments for some workers expire
in early September. Most students are also expected to attend
school in person in the fall, easing child-care issues.
MOCAP LLC, a Park Hills, Mo., manufacturer of plastic and rubber
components, wants to hire as many as 15 additional workers for the
140-person company, as global demand for its product ramps up. But
hiring has been a challenge, Chief Executive Joseph Miller
He said the current level of unemployment benefits equates to a
competitive wage in his mostly rural community an hour south of St.
Louis. "We have heard many times, 'Why go back to work if I would
only get a dollar or two more than benefits?'" on an hourly basis,
Mr. Miller said.
MOCAP needs entry-level workers for $15 an hour and machine
operators for $25 an hour. Both come with vacation and health
President Biden on Monday said he didn't see evidence that
jobless benefits were keeping Americans from applying for jobs.
The National Federation of Independent Business said Tuesday
that 44% of small-business owners reported job openings they
couldn't fill in April, the highest level in records dating back to
the 1970s. "Finding qualified employees remains the biggest
challenge for small businesses and is slowing economic growth,"
NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg said. "Owners are raising
compensation, offering bonuses and benefits to attract the right
The growing number of job openings appears at odds with April's
lackluster hiring figures. Earnings and hours worked also rose in
April, and the rate at which workers quit their jobs -- a proxy for
confidence in the labor market -- increased to 2.4% in March,
matching a record high. Those are all signs of a tightening labor
Some economists think the Labor Department may be struggling to
collect the data and adjust it for seasonal effects during a time
of rapid change.
"Our sense is there was something going on with the seasonal
adjustment process," RBC Capital Markets chief U.S. economist Tom
Porcelli wrote in a note to clients on Monday. "We know that the
April adjustment was more aggressive than in any other April over
The U.S. lost more than 20 million jobs a year ago in April at
the start of the pandemic.
The Labor Department's statistical arm has tweaked how it
seasonally adjusted payroll data during the pandemic and said more
of its data is collected through the internet rather than personal
outreach. However, seasonal adjustments used for the April figures
were in line with adjustments made historically, Bureau of Labor
Statistics economist Angie Clinton said.
W.W. Cannon LLC, a Dallas company, is seeing increased demand
for the equipment it sells and repairs for warehouses and
manufacturers, and is looking to hire more workers. The company,
now with 20 employees, cut 14 jobs last year during the pandemic,
President Greg Brown said.
Now he needs to hire a service technician but is having
difficulty finding someone. He recently raised the offered wage to
$30 an hour, from $25, to attract more applicants. He also has seen
little interest in other open positions at the company.
"You just can't find people; people aren't willing to come to
work," he said, adding that he thinks enhanced unemployment
benefits are dissuading would-be workers. Another factor is a
long-term trend of high-school students pursuing college degrees
rather than vocational skills.
Write to Eric Morath at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 11, 2021 12:56 ET (16:56 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.