Help Wanted: Job Openings Soar With Few Takers

Young woman with laptop and papers on the floor of her living room.
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The number of available jobs in the U.S. soared to a record high in March, according to government data released Tuesday, adding yet another piece to a puzzling labor market where jobs are returning but some workers aren’t.

There were 8.1 million job openings in the U.S. as of the last day of March, the most since the data series began in December 2000, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. The largest increases in openings came in industries hard hit by the pandemic: accommodation and food services (185,000), public schools (155,000), and arts, entertainment, and recreation (81,000). Overall, there were 597,000 more job openings in March than in February.

Hiring increased slightly, with 6 million hires in March, up from 5.8 million in February. Layoffs, meanwhile, decreased to 1.5 million, a record low.

The job openings data comes on the heels of a government report released Friday that showed the U.S. added just 266,000 people to payrolls in April, a quarter of what economists expected. It’s clear something is happening in the jobs market, economists said, with businesses eager to return to how things were before the pandemic, but workers hesitant to make the jump.

Theories about why that’s so have been plentiful since last week, with the blame placed variously on expanded federal unemployment insurance benefits, anxieties about the pandemic, an inability to find childcare, or even workers reconsidering their career choices.

The labor market lost 22.4 million jobs in the first months of the pandemic, and rehiring has slowed since an initial burst last summer. There are still 8.2 million fewer jobs than in February 2020, before the pandemic arrived in the U.S. A jump in hiring will likely still occur in the coming months, economists said, but it may take longer than expected for workers and jobs to match up.

“This is a positive sign that the economy is moving forward,” wrote Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank. “While hires were little changed, I’m optimistic that in coming months those job openings will translate into filled jobs.”