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U.S. job openings, hiring rise slightly in May

WASHINGTON – U.S. employers advertised slightly more jobs in May and total hiring increased, further signs of steady improvement in the job market.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that job openings rose 28,000 to 3.83 million in May from April. That's close to February's 3.9 million, which was the highest in five years.

A measure of gross hiring – which does not subtract quits, layoffs or retirements — increased 46,000 to 4.4 million. That's still lower than a year ago.

The job market remains competitive, despite stronger hiring this year. There are nearly 3.1 unemployed, on average, for each open job. That's down from a peak four years ago of nearly 7 to 1. In a healthy economy, the ratio is typically 2 to 1.

The Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey figures come after the government said last week that employers added a net total of 195,000 positions in June. That reflects all jobs added, minus layoffs, quits and retirements. The unemployment rate was unchanged at still-high 7.6 percent.

The job market has improved this year, even after sharp tax increases kicked in Jan. 1 and government spending cuts took effect March 1. Employers have added an average of 202,000 jobs a month in the first half of this year. That's up from an average of 180,000 in the previous six.

Job growth is being fueled in part by consumer spending and the housing recovery. Consumer confidence is at a 5 year high and is helping drive up sales of homes and cars.

Auto sales from January through June topped 7.8 million, their best first half since 2007, according to Autodata Corp. and Ward's AutoInfoBank. Sales of previously occupied homes exceeded 5 million in May, the first time that's happened since November 2009. New-home sales rose at their fastest pace in five years.

A stronger economy makes it more likely that the Federal Reserve could begin to taper its stimulus later this year. Chairman Ben Bernanke said last month that the Fed would slow its bond purchases later this year and end them next year if the economy continues to improve.

Bernanke and Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen have both said that they monitor the job openings report for signs that the job market is improving in a sustainable way.

The Fed will release minutes from its June meeting Wednesday. The report should provide further insight into what Bernanke and other policymakers are thinking.

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