US job openings equal jobless for first time in two decades

Associated Press


If you’re looking for a job right now, this may be about as good as it gets: There are roughly as many open jobs in the United States as there are unemployed people.

In March, employers advertised 6.55 million open jobs, the most on records dating to December 2000, the Labor Department said Tuesday . At the same time, there were 6.59 million unemployed people.

That’s a historical anomaly. Typically, there are far more unemployed people than advertised job openings – often twice as many. And back in July 2009, just after the Great Recession, there were 6.7 unemployed people, on average, for each open job. With that ratio now at essentially 1 to 1, the job market appears to be tilting in favor of workers and job-seekers rather than employers.

Still, the sharp jump in openings – they rose nearly 8 percent in March – does raise questions. If employers are so desperate, for instance, why aren’t they raising pay sharply enough to attract and keep employees? Though pay has risen modestly in recent months, the gains remain below historical averages.

Some economists say they still think the spike in open jobs means that employers will have to raise pay faster in coming months.

“Employers beware,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Bank. “Wages have nowhere to go but up; it’s just a matter of time.”

Some data suggests that workers are earning more: One measure of wages and salaries rose in the first three months of the year by the most in 11 years. But a separate measure of average hourly pay increased 2.6 percent in April from a year earlier, even as the unemployment rate reached a 17-year low of 3.9 percent.

The last time the jobless rate fell below 4 percent, average wages were rising at a much healthier 4.5 percent annual rate.

So where are all the job openings? The biggest gains in March were in construction, where openings soared by roughly one-third to 248,000. Job listings also jumped in education, professional services such as accounting, retail, hotels and restaurants, and shipping and warehousing.

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