Help Still Wanted: Job Openings Hit New Record in May

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Workers remain a hot commodity, as the number of available jobs hit a new high in May and the number of people quitting their jobs stayed at near-record levels.

There were 9.21 million job openings in the U.S. on the last business day of May, 16,000 more than April’s revised level (it was originally reported as 9.29 million) and more than in any month since data was first collected in December 2000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday. There are 31% more job openings now than there were in February 2020, the last full month before the pandemic began.

Meanwhile, 3.6 million people quit their jobs in May, down from the record of 3.99 million people in April but still above levels seen before the pandemic. Most business sectors saw slightly fewer people quit in May, but the leisure and hospitality industry—including restaurants, bars, and hotels—was a notable exception, with 764,000 workers leaving, 12,000 more than in April. Labor shortages are among the most common in those industries

Workers continue to have the upper hand in the jobs market, as employers struggle to hire as well as keep employees. Many businesses have begun to raise wages and offer perks to attract new hires as the volume of layoffs, at 1.37 million, hits a new record low for the third straight month. Hiring likely will pick up, particularly as schools reopen in the fall, shrinking the number of available jobs by the end of the year, some economists said.

“For workers considering their next move, now is still an opportune time to find a new job or ask for a raise,” Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at job search website Glassdoor, wrote in a commentary. “It’s unclear how long the market will remain tight, so workers may want to lock in gains now while the ball is in their court.”

Although it has yet to match the growth seen elsewhere in the economy, the job market has taken some recent steps forward after shedding 22.4 million workers at the outset of the pandemic. The U.S. added 850,000 people to payrolls in June—the most in 10 months and more than economists expected—and initial claims for unemployment benefits have steadily hit new pandemic-era lows throughout the spring. There are still 6.8 million fewer people on payrolls than there were in February 2020. 

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  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Job openings, hires, and total separations by industry, seasonally adjusted.”

  2. Federal Reserve Economic Research. “Quits: Total Nonfarm.”

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