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U.S. job openings barely grew in November

WASHINGTON – U.S. employers advertised about the same number of jobs in November as in October, suggesting hiring will stay modest over the next few months.

Job openings ticked up 11,000 last month to 3.67 million, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's about 12 percent more than were advertised in the same month a year ago.

The number of available jobs is slowly climbing back to the roughly 4 million that were advertised each month before the recession began in December 2007.

More than 12 million people were unemployed in November. That means there were 3.3 unemployed people, on average, competing for each open job. That's the lowest ratio since November 2008. Still, in a healthy economy, the ratio is roughly 2 to 1.

Separately, the Labor Department said the number of people seeking unemployment aid slightly increased last week, ticking up 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 371,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose after falling to a four-year low the previous week.

Overall, the two reports suggest that the job market is improving at the start of 2013 at roughly the same slow but steady pace as last year.

Overall hiring was largely unchanged in November, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS. Companies hired 4.3 million people, just 3,000 more than in October. Layoffs ticked down to nearly 1.7 million, 10,000 below October's number.

The number of people who quit their jobs rose, but was little changed compared to this summer. More quits can be a good sign for the job market. Most people quit when they move to another job.

Job openings rose in retail and hotels and restaurants, which likely reflect holiday-related gains. Openings ticked down in construction and manufacturing.

Employers added 161,000 jobs in November and 155,000 in December, according to the government employment report released Friday. The unemployment rate fell stayed at 7.8 percent in December. It fell to that level in November from 7.9 percent in October.

The gain in hiring nearly matched the average of 153,000 jobs per month in 2011 and 2012. That's been just enough to slowly push down the unemployment rate, which fell 0.7 percentage points in 2012.

Thursday's JOLTS report looks at total hiring, layoffs and quits. The report released Friday measured net hiring and unemployment.

The JOLTs report suggests that employers didn't step up layoffs or cut back on hiring in the midst of the debate over the tax and spending changes known as the fiscal cliff. Many economists feared that the prospect of higher taxes and steep cuts in federal spending would drag on job gains.

That's a good sign, since more budget showdowns are expected. Congress must vote to raise the government's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit by around late February. If not, the government risks defaulting on its debt. Republicans will likely demand deep spending cuts as the price of raising the debt limit.

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