WASHINGTON – Job openings in the U.S. increased in August to the highest level in three months, signaling progress in the labor market.
The number of positions waiting to be filled climbed by 75,000 to 3.88 million from a revised 3.81 million in the prior month, figures from the Labor Department showed Thursday in a statement. The pace of firings increased.
A faster pace of employment and accompanying wage gains would help spur consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy. Data last week showed payrolls grew less than forecast in September, indicating the world’s largest economy had little momentum prior to the federal government shutdown.
“Hiring is on a steady pace, and we expect that will continue,” Brian Jones, a senior U.S. economist at Societe Generale in New York, said before the report. “It’s consistent with a pickup in consumer spending.”
Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures.
Payrolls expanded by 148,000 workers last month after a revised 193,000 gain in August, Labor Department data showed on Oct. 22. The jobless rate dropped to 7.2 percent in September, the lowest level since November 2008. The report, delayed by the government shutdown that ended Oct. 17, was originally slated for Oct. 4.
Thursday’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, report showed the number of people hired was little changed at 4.49 million in August, keeping the hiring rate at 3.3 percent.
Job openings increased at construction companies, manufacturers and trade, transportation and utilities. Openings fell at government agencies.
The data also showed a pickup in firings. Total dismissals, which exclude retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, increased to 1.65 million from 1.59 million a month before.
Another 2.36 million people quit their jobs in August, up from 2.34 million the prior month. The quits rate was unchanged at 1.7 percent.
In the 12 months ended in August, the economy created a net 1.9 million jobs, representing 52.3 million hires and 50.4 million separations.
Considering the 11.3 million Americans who were unemployed in August, Thursday’s figures indicate there are about 2.9 people vying for every opening, the lowest in five years and compared with about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.
September payrolls data released this week also showed that private employment, which excludes government agencies, rose 126,000 after a revised gain of 161,000 the prior month.
Even as the debate on fiscal policy heated up last month, retailers were announcing plans to add workers for the holiday- shopping season.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, is hiring 55,000 seasonal employees, a 10 percent increase from last year. Target Corp. said it plans to take on about 70,000 workers. Kohl’s Corp. will add about 53,000 workers for the holiday season, about the same as last year.
The political gridlock in Washington related to the shutdown and the debt limit may have been a source of concern for some employers.
San Francisco-based URS Corp., a provider of engineering and construction services, furloughed about 3,000 employees, saying the total includes employees idled by the closing of a government facility where they work as well as those directed by U.S. officials to halt operations or cut staffing.