US job openings flat in September

By: 
CHRISTOPHER RUGABER
AP Economics Writer

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. The government said last week that employers added 261,000 jobs in October. That partly reflected a recovery in hiring after the hurricanes dragged down job gains in September.

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 2008-2009 Great Recession, that figure reached 6 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.

Most workers quit to take new jobs, which typically pay more. Data collected by payroll processor ADP found that from July through September, full-time workers who switched jobs saw their earnings rise 4.9 percent from a year earlier. Those who stayed in their jobs saw a smaller gain of 4.3 percent.

The disparities between those who switched jobs and those who stayed were much higher in some industries. In leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants and hotels as well as bars and casinos, those who quit and took new jobs saw annual gains of 6.9 percent. Those who stayed in their jobs saw just a 4.8 percent gain.
In a category that includes high-tech workers, switchers saw pay gains of 6.1 percent, compared with 5.1 percent for those who stayed in their jobs.

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