May 8 (Bloomberg) -- Job openings in the U.S. rose in March to the highest level in more than three years, a sign employers may be looking to take on more staff as the economy grows.
The number of positions waiting to be filled increased by 172,000 to 3.74 million, the most since July 2008, from a revised 3.57 million the prior month that was larger than previously estimated, the Labor Department said today in a statement posted on its website. Hiring slowed and firings were little changed.
Improving prospects may lure more workers into the labor market and help the world’s largest economy cut into the 5 million-job deficit that remains as a result of the recession that ended in June 2009. Faster hiring and the accompanying wage gains are needed to sustain consumer spending, which grew in the first quarter at the fastest pace in more than a year.
“The degree of caution among employers may be abating somewhat,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist for Pierpont Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, said before the report. “It’ll still be a slow grind.”
Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures.
Payrolls climbed by 115,000 workers in April, the fewest in six months and less than the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, Labor Department figures showed on May 4. It followed a revised 154,000 gain in March that was larger than initially estimated.
The number of people hired decreased to 4.36 million in March from 4.44 million the previous month, today’s report showed. The hiring rate held at 3.3 percent.
Manufacturers led the gain in job openings for the month as all industries, except government agencies, looked to expand.
Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, decreased to 1.68 million from 1.73 million a month before. That left the firing rate at 1.3 percent, the same as in February.
About 2.15 million people quit their jobs in March, up from 2.07 million in February. The increase may signal workers are gaining confidence they can find other work as the economy grows.
Last week’s payrolls report showed the unemployment rate fell to a three-year low of 8.1 percent in April from 8.2 percent in March. The participation rate, or the share of the working-age population either employed or looking for a job, dropped to 63.6 percent, the lowest since December 1981, as people left the labor force.
Federal Reserve policy makers view unemployment as “elevated” and plan to hold borrowing costs low through late 2014.
In the 12 months ended in March, the economy created a net 1.9 million jobs, representing 50.7 million hires and about 48.8 million separations, today’s report showed.
Considering the 12.7 million Americans who were unemployed in March, today’s figures indicate there are about 3.4 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.
Chrysler Group LLC is among companies expanding their workforce. The automaker controlled by Fiat SpA said it will accelerate the addition of 1,100 jobs and a third crew of workers by hiring them in November, pulling ahead plans for increasing production in early 2013.
Some companies are reducing staff as part of their cost- cutting efforts. H&R Block Inc., the biggest U.S. tax preparer, plans to reduce 350 jobs and close about 200 company-owned offices. AMR Corp.’s American Airlines this month said it will eliminate 1,200 airport agent, baggage and cargo jobs as part of a bankruptcy restructuring plan to trim annual labor spending.