Economic Indicators | Inequality and Poverty

Nearly five unemployed workers for every available job

May 12, 2009

Nearly five unemployed workers for every available job

by Heidi Shierholz

Job openings decreased by 256,000 in March 2009, down to 2.7 million for the month according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report on the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS).  In December 2007, the start of the recession, there were 4.4 million job openings, 61.3% more than there were in March.

At the same time that job openings have been declining, more and more workers have been losing their jobs.  In March, there were 13.2 million unemployed workers, which translates into 4.8 unemployed workers for every available job.  To put that ratio in perspective it helps to compare it to the start of the recession when there were 1.7 unemployed workers per job opening, or to December 2000 (the first month of the JOLTS series), when there were 1.1 unemployed workers per job opening.  The chart below shows the number of job seekers per opening over the course of the entire data series.

Although employment and unemployment numbers for April are already available, the JOLTS data are released with a one-month lag. Nonetheless, given last Friday’s announcement that the unemployment rolls increased last month by 563,000, it is almost certain that there will be at least five unemployed workers per job opening in the April JOLTS report.  Despite the fact that the April report showed that the pace of job losses is slowing, there are still millions of jobless workers with little hope of finding employment in this dramatically weakened labor market.

Fewer and fewer job openings for U.S. workers [figure]

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