WASHINGTON – Job openings rose in June to the highest level in more than 13 years, firming up the U.S. labor market picture for the second half of the year.
The number of unfilled positions climbed by 94,000 to 4.67 million, the most since February 2001, from a revised 4.58 million in May, a report from the Labor Department showed Tuesday.
Tuesday’s figures are among those on Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s employment “dashboard,” which she uses to help guide monetary policy. The increase in openings, combined with the highest readings on the number of people hired and leaving their jobs since 2008, means the healing in the labor market is broadening, albeit at a measured rate.
“There’s improvement, but it’s still slow and uneven,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York. Hiring, firings and quits will need to be closer to pre-recession levels “before Yellen and Co. get concerned that maybe the economy might be overheating.”
The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, contextualizes monthly payroll figures by measuring dynamics including resignations, help-wanted ads and the pace of hiring.
Although it lags behind the Labor Department’s other jobs data by a month, Yellen follows the report as a measure of labor-market tightness and worker confidence.
Tuesday’s figures indicate there are about two unemployed people vying for each opening. The ratio when the last recession began in December 2007 was 1.8 job seekers per opening.
Payrolls expanded by 209,000 workers in July, following a 298,000 gain the prior month, Labor Department figures showed last week. Gains have exceeded 200,000 for six consecutive months, the first time that’s happened since 1997.
The improving conditions drew more job seekers into the labor force, pushing up the unemployment rate to 6.2 percent from 6.1 percent.
Two-thirds of Yellen’s dashboard measures are still shy of their pre-recession levels, including the share of jobless Americans who have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, and the portion of the working-age population in the labor force.