Job openings in the U.S. fell in August for the first time in four months, signaling a sustained labor-market recovery will take time to unfold.
The number of positions waiting to be filled dropped by 157,000 to 3.06 million, according to Labor Department figures issued Oct. 12 in Washington. Hiring increased by 38,000 to 4.01 million.
Payrolls climbed by 103,000 workers in September, a better-than-forecast outcome that included 45,000 returning Verizon Communications Inc. strikers. With unemployment hovering above 9 percent, the economy slowing and concerns of a European default mounting, employers may be slow to further boost hiring.
“Companies don’t want to risk making additional hires with the outlook so uncertain,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in New York, said before the report. “Corporations are playing it very close to the vest and keeping payrolls lean.”
Job openings decreased 4.9 percent in August from a revised 3.21 million in July that were smaller than initially reported, the data showed. The drop in vacancies was led by trade, transportation and utilities.
Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures. The gain in payrolls in September followed a revised 57,000 increase the prior month, Labor Department figures showed Oct. 7. August payrolls were previously reported as having been little changed.
Employers discharged 1.66 million workers in August, down from 1.69 million in July, the report also showed. Total separations, which include firings, retirements and those who left their jobs voluntarily, were little changed at 3.97 million.
In the 12 months ended in August, the economy created a net 1.2 million jobs, representing about 47.9 million hires and about 46.7 million separations, today’s report showed.
Compared with the 14 million Americans who were unemployed in August, last week’s figures indicate there were more than four people vying for every opening, up from about two when the last recession began in December 2007.
Citigroup Inc., the third-biggest U.S. bank, is among firms that have turned more cautious about hiring. It said last month it will limit hiring to only “critical” jobs as the economic slowdown continues and revenue slumps.
“We are currently only filling positions we believe are critical to the line of business or function,” Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman for the New York-based bank, said in an interview Sept. 15. •