Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

Number of job seekers per job opening remains high in December

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the December report from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), showing that job openings increased by 63,000 to 2.5 million in December. At the same time, the number of unemployed workers decreased by 73,000 to 15.3 million, resulting in 12.8 million more unemployed workers than job openings in December, or 6.1 job seekers per available job (see Figure). This is a slight decline from 6.3 in November.

[Chart: JOLTS]

Fortunately, job openings appear to be stabilizing in recent months. In the first quarter of 2009, job openings declined an average of 197,000 per month, but in the last two quarters of 2009, job openings were basically flat (-3,000 per month on average). However, for the labor market to recover, we must start seeing substantial increases. There is considerable ground to make up. Before the recession hit in 2007, , there were 4.6 million jobs openings per month on average, but in December of 2009, there were 2.5 million or just over half the available jobs in 2007.

We already know that the number of unemployed fell 430,000 to 14.8 million in January. If job openings in January remain at their December levels then the ratio of job openings per unemployed worker will fall to 5.9. However, improvement will still leave this imbalance at a level far more than double the highest it reached in the prior recession (2.8).

To absorb the over 15 million officially unemployed workers in this country, plus the nearly 2.5 million “marginally attached” workers (jobless workers who want a job but have given up actively seeking work and are therefore not counted as officially unemployed), job openings and hiring must rebound dramatically. This report offers no indication that that is happening — instead it adds to existing overwhelming evidence that it is time for substantial additional government action to revive the labor market.

(For additional data on how the ratio between job openings and job seekers has widened over the course of the recession, and how it compares with the 2001 recession, when there were never more than three job seekers per job opening, visit EPI’s Economy Track.)

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