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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, November 08, 2017 1:00 am

Hurricanes hold back hiring for September

CHRISTOPHER RUGABER | Associated Press

WASHINGTON – U.S. employers posted roughly the same number of open jobs in September as the previous month, partly because hurricanes held back hiring at restaurants and hotels.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that 6.09 million jobs were available at the end of September, not far from the record high of 6.14 million reached in July. The number of open jobs in restaurants and hotels fell 111,000 from August. That reflects widespread damage in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck many vacation spots in Texas, Florida and other southeastern states.

Overall, thousands of businesses were closed, which likely held back hiring. Total hires fell 2.7 percent to 5.27 million in September, the lowest in five months.

Excluding the storms' impact, the job market remains mostly healthy.

October's figure is a net gain after layoffs, quits and retirements are subtracted from overall hiring. Tuesday's data is from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS. They are more detailed and provide a fuller view of the job market than the monthly jobs report.

The two reports paint a picture of employers struggling to fill jobs in tight labor market.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent in October, the lowest in 17 years.

Employers have a dwindling pool of those out of work to choose from. There were just 1.12 unemployed people, on average, for every open job in September. During the 2008-09 Great Recession, that figure reached six unemployed people for every available job.

When employers are desperate to hire, they typically offer higher pay to find and keep employees. Yet a variety of data suggests that wages are rising slowly. Hourly pay rose just 2.4 percent in October from a year earlier, the government said Friday.

The last time the unemployment rate was as low as it is now, pay was increasing at about 4 percent a year.

Americans are quitting their jobs at a healthy pace, which helps lift pay gains. But they may need to do so more often to push wages higher.

Nearly 3.2 million quit in September, near a post-recession peak reached in May. Still, the pace of quits has barely increased in the past 18 months.