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US job openings reach 5-year high, a hopeful sign

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 2:55 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers advertised the most job openings in more than five years in October, and the number of people quitting also reached a five-year high.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that job openings rose 1 percent to a seasonally adjusted 3.93 million. That is the highest figure since May 2008, three months after the Great Recession began.

And the number of workers who quit rose 2.5 percent to 2.39 million, the most since October 2008. More workers quitting can signal a healthy job market, because most of those people likely either have a new job or are confident they can find one.

Total hiring, though, slipped 2.6 percent to 4.5 million after reaching a five-year high in September. Still, overall hiring has risen 5.2 percent in the past year.

More hiring, job openings and quits point to a more dynamic job market. That trend creates more opportunities for people out of work or looking for a new job.

Another positive sign in the report: Layoffs plunged 16 percent to 1.47 million, the lowest level on records dating to 2001. Still, while fewer layoffs are welcome, businesses need to step up hiring to more quickly reduce the still-high unemployment rate of 7 percent.

Job openings remain just below the 4 million figure that is thought to be consistent with a healthy job market. And employers usually hire about 5 million people each month in a normal economy.

The job market remains competitive, even though the competition is easing. There were 2.9 unemployed people, on average, for each available job in October. That's down from a ratio of nearly 7 to 1 in July 2009, just after the recession ended. In a healthy economy, the ratio is typically 2 to 1.

Other recent reports show that businesses are adding jobs at a solid, steady pace. Employers added 203,000 positions in November, the government said Friday. The unemployment rate fell to a five-year low of 7 percent. Job gains have now averaged about 200,000 for the past four months.

Those figures reflect net payroll gains — the number of people hired minus those who were laid off, quit or retired. Tuesday's report on job openings and labor turnover provides more details than the monthly employment report.

Both Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, who has been nominated to succeed him next year, have cited greater overall hiring and quits as key signs of the job market's improvement.

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Follow Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber

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