Record-Low Number of Unemployed Workers per Job Opening

The number of unemployed people per job opening hovered at record-low levels in February, a new sign of the difficulty employers face in hiring and retaining workers. 

There were just 0.6 unemployed people per opening in February, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released on Tuesday. The number is lower than the previous record of 0.8, set just before the pandemic took hold, and much lower than the 4.9 unemployed people per opening at the outset of the pandemic. 

The ratio of unemployed workers per vacancy is often interpreted as a sign of labor market tightness. The record lows highlight the difficulty companies are having with labor, a major source of the supply chain problems that have bedeviled the economy and contributed to high inflation. While the news is good for workers, it is also a problem for President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings have suffered badly because of rising prices. 

The number of job openings remained about the same from the month before, with about 11.3 million openings in February, according to the bureau’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. 

Job openings decreased by the largest margin in the finance and insurance space, followed by nondurable goods manufacturing. Openings increased in arts, entertainment, recreation, and educational services. 

“At the end of February, the labor market was very tight. Job openings remain elevated, and workers are seizing those opportunities by quitting their jobs,” said Nick Bunker, the director of economic research for Indeed Hiring Lab. “But there are indications we are in the early stages of a relative cooldown. Whether this easing is gradual and contained or turns into a broader deterioration depends on forces outside the labor market.” 

The number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs remained near record levels, with 4.4 million quitting in February. 

The February number is up slightly from the number who quit their jobs the month before. In November, the number of people quitting was the highestsince the United States began keeping records of the statistic about two decades ago. 

The so-called quits rate measures the number of people who voluntarily left their jobs — including those who left their previous employment for another job and people who quit but are confident in their ability to find new employment because of the tight labor market. 

The news comes after a better-than-anticipated jobs report for last month. The economy far exceeded expectations and added 678,000 jobs in February, an encouraging sign the labor market is returning to its pre-pandemic strength. That followed another better-than-expected jobs report for January. 

The unemployment rate also ticked down to 3.8%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, the lowest since the start of the pandemic when it was resting at an ultra-low 3.5%. 

There has also been good news on jobless claims. The number of new applications for unemployment benefits fell by 28,000 last week to 187,000, the lowest level for initial claims since September 1969.