Job Openings Hit Record 6.6 Million–One for Every Unemployed

Updated: May 21, 2018

Employers offered 6.55 million job openings in March, the most since the data collection started in December 2000. That means the country had a job opening for nearly every unemployed worker, as counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

On May 15, President Donald Trump retweeted an article on the job openings record—a boon for his core campaign promise of reviving the economy.

The private sector grew by some 439,000 job openings since the previous month, most notably in professional and business services (112,000), construction (68,000), and transportation, warehousing, and utilities (37,000), according to the BLS, in a May 8 release.

The government swelled by some 32,000 job openings in March.

Some 3.34 million people quit their jobs in March, up 136,000 from February, which signals that U.S. workers are becoming more willing to leave their jobs for new ones.

The unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in March, meaning the country had almost as many job openings as unemployed people. The job openings survey is delayed by one month, but the unemployment numbers for April are already out and stand at 3.9 percent. The only time it has ever dropped so low since 1969 was in April 2000—and only for one month.

(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Since many economists consider a 4 percent unemployment rate synonymous with full employment, it may seem that employers are adding positions that can’t be filled. But the unemployment figure can be deceiving, as it does not include those who haven’t sought a job over the previous four weeks.

Part of the April drop in the unemployment rate was due to more people leaving the workforce.

There are almost 95 million people considered not in the workforce—those over the age of 16 who don’t work and are currently not looking for work, mostly because they are studying, ill, retired, or staying at home (pdf). Among these, about 5.5 million wanted a job in 2017, according to the BLS.

This number has been declining in recent years—a hint that more people who had given up on finding a job are now trying again and succeeding.

(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Giving up on work has been a problem mainly for men since at least the mid-1960s. Up until then, some 97 percent of men aged 25 to 54 had a job or were actively looking for one. Since then, however, the percentage has been declining, reaching 88 percent in October 2013 and slumping until November 2015. It inched up a bit during the next two years, and then by almost a whole percentage point during the past eight months, reaching 89.3 percent in April.

(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Tapping into this pool of potential workers, the job market seems to still have significant room for improvement. Bringing people back to the workforce was one of Trump’s campaign promises when he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015.

“We have people that aren’t working. We have people that have no incentive to work. But they’re going to have incentive to work, because the greatest social program is a job,” he said in his announcement speech at Trump Tower.

He hasn’t stopped emphasizing the point since.

“Here’s a great stat—since January 2017, the number of people forced to use food stamps is down 1.9 million. The American people are finally back to work!” he wrote in a tweet on April 23.

The economy has been on a streak of breaking expectations with private sector wages and salaries growing in the first quarter at the fastest pace since 2007. Claims of unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level since 1969 in the week ending April 21.

Workers are also starting to see higher take-home pay, as lower withholdings due to Trump’s tax cuts are kicking in.

Surveys suggested many workers did not see the tax cut boost to their paychecks until late in the first quarter.

Household disposable income increased at a rate of 3.4 percent in the first quarter, accelerating from the fourth quarter’s 1.1 percent pace. Households also boosted savings.

The economy has been invigorated by the “Trump effect”—a boost to confidence in the economy linked to Trump’s cuts to regulations, taxes, and planned investment in infrastructure.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 

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