U.S. job openings rise in June, likely exaggerate labor market health

Lucia Mutikani
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Job seekers apply for the 300 available positions at a new Target retail store in San Francisco
FILE PHOTO: Job seekers apply for the 300 available positions at a new Target retail store in San Francisco

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. job openings increased in June but the surge in vacancies was accompanied by a rise in workers quitting their positions at hotels, restaurants and bars, likely because of fears of exposure to COVID-19 and problems securing child care.

Despite the increase in vacancies reported by the Labor Department on Monday, job openings remained below their pre-pandemic level, supporting the view that it could take the labor market years to recover from the public health crisis.

"Perhaps the rise in job openings is less about adding additional workers, but backfilling positions from workers who quit positions due to concerns about the virus, lack of childcare options, or similar reasons," said Nick Bunker, director of research at Indeed Hiring Lab.

"An increase in quitting is usually a sign of worker confidence in the health of the labor market. Right now, it's hard to see workers feeling quite so confident with unemployment in the double digits."

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, rose 518,000 to 5.9 million on the last day of June, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS. Vacancies were below their level of 7 million in February.

There were an additional 198,000 job openings in the accommodation and food services industry. Vacancies also increased in the health care and social assistance sector. Overall, the job openings rate rose to 4.1% from 3.9% in May.

The number of people voluntarily quitting their jobs increased 531,000 to 2.6 million. Those quitting jobs in the healthcare and social assistance industry rose by 106,000, while the jump in the accommodation and food services sector was 104,000. The retail sector saw an increase of 99,000 quitting.

The quits rate, which under normal circumstance is viewed by policymakers and economists as a measure of job market confidence, increased to 1.9% from 1.6% in May.

SCANT JOB OPPORTUNITIES

The JOLTS report followed on the heels of news last Friday that the economy created 1.763 million jobs in July, decelerating from a record 4.791 million in June. The economy has regained 9.3 million of the 22 million jobs lost between February and April. There were 16.3 million unemployed last month, though 31.3 million were on jobless benefits in mid-July.

With June's vacancies, there were three people per job opening.

"Opportunities to find work as unemployment benefits have been reduced, however, remain relatively scant, with three unemployed workers for every job opening," said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A $600 weekly unemployment benefit supplement expired at the end of July. President Donald Trump on Saturday signed an executive order to extend the supplement, though he reduced the weekly check to $400.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading largely higher. The dollar <.DXY> was steady against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were mixed.

The JOLTS report showed hiring dropped by 503,000 jobs to 6.7 million in June. Hiring was still at the second highest level since the government started tracking the series in 2000.

Hiring fell in the health care and social assistance sector, as well as in construction. It rose by 255,000 in professional and business services, and 78,000 in accommodation and food services.

Overall, the hiring rate fell to 4.9% from an all-time high of 5.4% in May.

"Another day, another labor market statistic that just doesn't make sense," said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. "Incredibly, bars, restaurants, and hotels want to hire 719,000 workers in June where before the pandemic shut down the country they wanted to hire 815,000. Biggest recession in almost a century and there is no change in the hiring plans of leisure and hospitality industries."

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)