U.S. job openings increased in March to the highest level in eight months and layoffs continued to decline, indicating the labor market remains fairly robust despite April’s slowdown in employment gains.
The firmer labor market tone was also evident in another report on Tuesday, which showed small businesses increasingly having trouble finding qualified workers to fill open positions.
“The data generally remain upbeat and it does not look like there has been any material weakening in the health of the labor market lately,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.
Job openings, a measure of labor demand, rose 149,000 to a seasonally adjusted 5.8 million, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report. That was the highest reading since July.
The gain lifted the jobs openings rate to 3.9 percent, re-testing its post-recession high, from 3.8 percent in February.
Hiring, however, fell 218,000 to 5.3 million in March, suggesting employers are probably not finding qualified workers for the open positions. The hiring rate slipped to 3.7 percent from 3.8 percent in February.
The JOLTS report is one of the job market metrics on Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s so-called dashboard and continues to suggest the labor market is tightening.
But labor market strength alone is insufficient to spur the Fed to raise interest rates before the end of the year, given slow economic growth and benign inflation. The Fed raised its benchmark overnight interest rate in December for the first time in nearly a decade.
Other details of the JOLTS report were fairly upbeat, also indicating that a deceleration in hiring last month probably did not signal a cooling in the jobs market.
The government reported last Friday that nonfarm payrolls increased 160,000 in April, the smallest gain in seven months, after advancing by 208,000 jobs in March. The unemployment was unchanged at 5 percent in April.
The JOLTS report showed a further decline in layoffs, while at the same time 2.98 million Americans quit their jobs voluntarily in March, a sign of confidence in the labor market. The quits rate was unchanged at 2.1 percent.
U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.