Home Economic Trends Private-Sector Job Openings and Quits Hit New Highs in March – Robert...

Private-Sector Job Openings and Quits Hit New Highs in March – Robert Hughes

The latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the total number of job openings in the economy increased to 11.549 million in March, up from 11.344 million in February. The number of open positions in the private sector increased to 10.504 million in March, up from 10.256 million in February (see first chart). Both are at new series highs.

The total job openings rate, openings divided by the sum of jobs plus openings, rose to 7.1 percent in March from 7.0 percent in February while the private-sector job-openings rate rose to 7.5 percent from 7.4 percent in the previous month (see first chart). The March result for the private sector matches the series high.

Three industry categories have more than 2.0 million openings each: education and health care (2.256 million), professional and business services (2.141 million), and trade, transportation, and utilities (2.036 million). Leisure and hospitality (1.675 million) is above 1 million.

The highest openings rates were in leisure and hospitality (9.7 percent), professional and business services (8.8 percent), education and health care (8.5 percent), transportation, and utilities, trade (6.6 percent), and manufacturing (6.4 percent) and all are above the pre-lockdown-recession private-sector peak of 5.1 percent (see second chart). Among the private-sector industry groups, only construction (4.9 percent) is below 5.1 percent.

The number of private-sector quits rose to a new series high in March, coming in at 4.284 million, up from 4.130 million in February (see third chart). Trade, transportation, and utilities led with 1.016 million quits followed by leisure and hospitality with 889,000 quits, and professional and business services with 809,000.

The total quits rate rose to 3.0 percent for the month, up from 2.9 percent in the prior month while the private-sector quits rate rose to 3.3 percent versus 3.2 percent in February, just 0.1 percentage points below the record high 3.4 percent in November 2021 (see third chart).

The quits rates among the private-sector industry groups are still dominated by leisure and hospitality with a rate of 5.7 percent, well ahead of the number two, professional and business services, with a 3.7 percent rate, and number three, trade transportation, and utilities, with a 3.6 percent quits rate. All the major groups within the private sector have a quits rate above the average over 2001 through 2019 (see fourth chart).

The number of job seekers (unemployed plus those not in the labor force but who want a job) per opening fell to 1.03 in March, a new record low. Prior to the lockdown recession, the low was 1.409 in October 2019 (see fifth chart).

Today’s job openings data continue to suggest a very tight labor market. The tight labor market is leading to significant turnover among employees and contributing to the headwinds facing businesses as they try to boost production. Compounding the difficulties are the disruptions to capital and commodity markets and the global economy due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as the large-scale lockdowns imposed in China in response to a new wave of COVID-19 cases.