Job openings soar to new record as workers stay on sidelines

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US job openings soared to a fresh record of 9.3 million in April while companies struggled to find new workers as the economy continued to heat up, the feds said Tuesday.

Total openings rose by about 1 million compared to March, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS.

The 9.3 million openings is the highest level reported since the data series began in December 2000, the feds said.

That means the number of job openings in April nearly matched the 9.8 million Americans who were unemployed but searching for work in that month, according to federal data.

The leisure and hospitality sectors saw the most job growth, according to the data.

And the rate at which workers quit their jobs, seen as a sign of worker confidence in their ability to find another job, also rose to a record high in the month.

A chart shows total nonfarm job openings between April 2016 and April 2021.
A chart shows total nonfarm job openings between April 2016 and April 2021.
Bureau of Labor Statistics

Retail saw a spike in quits up to 4.3 percent from 3.6 percent in the month prior.

The rate at which workers were laid off fell to a record low, the Labor Department said.

The latest round of data comes as companies across industries struggle to staff up just as the economy’s beginning to rebound. Many business owners now find themselves unable to operate at full capacity and meet demand heading into what’s expected to be a bustling summer season.

A grocery store worker pushes shopping carts as fellow workers, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), hold a boycott rally in front of a Food4Less Supermarket in Los Angeles, California on May 12, 2021, protesting alleged lack of progress on contract negotiations which began in January. - US job openings reached a record 8.1 million in March but businesses are struggling to find enough workers. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Retailers need more workers like this grocery store employee.
AFP via Getty Images
Now Hiring sign
April boasted 1 million more job openings than March.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

Economists say three factors are keeping new workers on the sidelines: fear of catching COVID-19, child-care responsibilities and pandemic-boosted unemployment benefits that give people an extra $300 per week.

Americans could also soon see their benefits slashed, as at least 25 states are now looking to lure workers back into the labor market by withdrawing from the federal program. President Biden confirmed last week that he will let that program end in September, as scheduled.

Biden has added, “If you’re receiving unemployment benefits and you’re offered a suitable job, you can’t refuse that job and just keep getting the unemployment benefits.”

 A sign outside the window manufacturer Regency Plus advertises for job openings
A sign outside the window manufacturer Regency Plus advertises for job openings.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

Rather than cutting the federal benefits, some states have sought to incentivize returning to the workforce through new programs.

New Hampshire, for example, is offering a $1,000 hiring bonus to full-time workers, and $500 for part-timers, who earn less than $25 per hour and stay on the job for at least two months. Other states have sought to pair incentives like that with cutting the federal benefits.

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