WASHINGTON – Job openings in the U.S. rose more than forecast in February to a six-year high as employers moved to boost hiring in response to rising consumer demand.
The number of positions waiting to be filled in the U.S. climbed by 299,000 to 4.17 million in February, the most since January 2008, from a revised 3.87 million the month before, the Labor Department reported Tuesday in Washington. The rate of hiring and the number of Americans quitting their jobs were little changed.
The figures, which are among nine labor-market barometers closely watched by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, reinforce other data showing steady improvement. Accelerated hiring would help provide bigger wage gains needed to boost consumer spending, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the economy.
“Everything is pointing to an improving labor market, which the Fed obviously wants to see,” said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “But they want to see much more improvement in the labor markets before they consider the economy is healthy again.”
The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for 4.02 million openings in February after a previously reported 3.97 million a month earlier.
The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, adds context to monthly payrolls data by measuring dynamics such as resignations, help-wanted ads and the pace of hiring. Although it lags other jobs data by a month, the figures are tracked by Yellen as a measure of labor-market tightness and worker confidence.
Companies added 192,000 workers in March after 188,000 jobs the month before, Labor Department figures showed last week. The gain brought the number of private jobs, which exclude government agencies, to 116.1 million, surpassing the previous peak set in January 2008 before the start of the last recession. Unemployment held at 6.7 percent even as almost half a million people entered the workforce.