U.S. job openings declined in August for the first time in four months while hiring edged up slightly, giving a mixed picture of labor market dynamics amid the grinding economic recovery from the lows sparked by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreak and associated lockdowns.
Employers in the United States advertised 6.49 million jobs in August, down from 6.7 million in July, the Labor Department said on Tuesday in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS. This was the first monthly decline in job openings—a measure of labor demand—since April. Vacancies remain below their pre-pandemic level of 7 million.
The drop in vacancies was led by the private sector, with the measure falling by 242,000, and the construction and retail sectors leading the decline with 68,000 fewer vacancies in each industry between July and August.
Hiring in August ticked up to 5.92 million, slightly above the 5.90 million job applicants hired the previous month. Yet the rise in hiring was entirely driven by government hiring, which expanded by 235,000, while private sector hiring fell by 220,000. Federal government hiring grew by 246,000, chiefly due to temporary Census 2020 hiring, while state and local hiring fell by 11,000.
The JOLTS report followed news last Friday that the economy created 661,000 jobs in September. Employment growth peaked in June, when payrolls jumped by a record 4.781 million jobs, dropping to 1.761 million jobs added in July, and 1.489 million in August. So far, around half of the 22.2 million jobs lost at the depth of the pandemic have been recovered.
The unemployment rate in September fell to 7.9 percent from 8.4 percent in August, with a little more than 12.5 million Americans remaining jobless last month.
The number of people quitting their jobs, which is typically interpreted as a sign of confidence in the ability to find a better job, fell from a seasonally-adjusted 2.93 million in July to 2.79 million in August. The unadjusted figures portray a slightly different picture, showing the number of quits rising from 3.4 million in July to nearly 3.6 million in August.
Layoffs, meanwhile, fell from a seasonally-adjusted 1.75 million in July to 1.47 million in August. The unadjusted layoff figures showed a similar trend, dropping from nearly 1.7 million in July to around 1.57 million in August.
The Labor Department report came as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said an event on Tuesday that the economic rebound could still slip into a downward spiral if the CCP virus outbreak is not effectively controlled and if growth is not sustained.
“The expansion is still far from complete,” Powell said in remarks delivered online to the National Association for Business Economics. He added that if the recovery slows too much it could lead to a situation where “weakness feeds on weakness” and triggers “recessionary dynamics.”