Economic Indicators | Budget, Taxes, and Public Investment

6.1 job seekers per job opening in September

The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) showed that job openings increased by 57,000 in September to a total of 2.5 million. However, other BLS data show that at the same time, the number of unemployed workers increased by 214,000 to 15.1 million. There were thus 12.7 million more unemployed workers than job openings in September, or 6.1 job seekers per available job (see chart below). This was little changed from August, when the ratio was 6.2 to one.  Given the large number of job seekers per job opening, it is not surprising that the labor market is seeing record rates of long-term unemployment. 

Although unemployment numbers for October became available last Friday, JOLTS data are released with a one-month lag. Given last Friday’s announcement that the number of unemployed workers increased by 558,000 in October, the number of job seekers per job opening was almost certainly at least 6.2 in October.

Between December 2007 and September 2009, the number of job openings declined by 1.9 million, or 43.4%. However, the situation has been improving for the past three months: although declines in job openings from September 2008 to March 2009 averaged 156,000 per month, they averaged less than 10% of that (11,000 per month) from July 2009 to September 2009. In fact, both August and September saw modest gains.

While the number of job openings may be stabilizing, it is doing so slowly.  Thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, layoffs are clearly moderating, but hiring continues to falter.  Until hiring and the number of job openings improve significantly, job growth cannot resume and unemployment will continue its upward climb.