Updated March 23 at 12:28am

Job openings in U.S. rise to 3-year high in March


WASHINGTON - Job openings in the U.S. rose in March to the highest level in more than three years, a sign that employers may be looking to take on more staff as the economy grows.

The number of positions waiting to be filled increased the most since July 2008 to 3.74 million from a revised 3.57 million the prior month that was larger than previously estimated, the Labor Department said today in a statement posted on its website.

Hiring slowed and firings were little changed during March.

Improving prospects may lure more workers into the labor market and help the world’s largest economy cut into the 5 million-job deficit that remains as a result of the recession that ended in June 2009.

Faster hiring and the accompanying wage gains are needed to sustain consumer spending, which grew in the first quarter at the fastest pace in more than a year.

“The degree of caution among employers may be abating somewhat,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist for Pierpont Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, said before the report. “It’ll still be a slow grind.”

Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures.

Payrolls climbed by 115,000 workers in April, the fewest in six months and less than the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, Labor Department figures showed on May 4.

It followed a revised 154,000 gain in March that was larger than initially estimated.

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