Job Openings Fell in August, but Turnover Was Little Changed

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Employers continued to ease off the number of jobs they were hiring for in August, but not by much, adding to the picture of a labor market that’s cooling but still short of available workers.

About 10.1 million positions were open at the end of the summer, down from 11.2 million in July, the Labor Department reported Tuesday. That still left 1.7 unemployed workers for each available job, around the highest proportion on record.

The job openings rate — calculated by dividing the number of job openings by the sum of employment and open jobs — was 6.2 percent, down from a revised 6.8 percent in July. The number and share of people being hired and leaving their jobs remained about level.

Federal Reserve officials have theorized that rather than prompting employers to lay people off, rising interest rates would instead subdue the economy by simply reducing their need for additional workers. So far, that’s happening — but very slowly.

“Our perspective is really distorted,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm KPMG. “It’s still not anything like what we saw prepandemic. It’s cooling from a boil to a rolling simmer. And that’s not enough.”

Ms. Swonk referred to data released by the job search website Indeed, which shows a consistently elevated level of new job postings, even though demand for retail workers in particular has leveled off.

“They’ve come off their peak, but they’re still plateauing at a high level,” Ms. Swonk said.

The share of people quitting their jobs is also an indicator of workers’ confidence that employment opportunities abound. About 4.2 million people gave notice in August, slightly more than during the previous month. That leaves the rate of people quitting their jobs — the number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs divided by total employment — only slightly below the 3 percent it reached at the end of last year, the highest reading on record.

One of the largest drops in openings came in the financial sector, where mortgage brokers have been losing work as rising interest rates are subduing the housing market, although openings in rental and leasing activities rose. Retail openings also dropped, as companies prepared for a softer holiday season.

Even while slowing down job postings, companies have been holding on to workers. After rising slightly in the first half of the year, the number of initial claims for unemployment has been trending lower since midsummer as employers try to stay fully staffed. In the release by the Labor Department on Tuesday, layoffs ticked up slightly to 1.5 million in August, but remained lower than their historical average.

“Simply put, companies slashed payrolls by more than was necessary during the height of the pandemic and are struggling to restore staffing levels to where they were before Covid-19 hit,” Bob Schwartz, an Oxford Economics senior economist, wrote in a note last week.

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