Job openings in U.S. decreased in August for a second month

Job openings in the U.S. dropped for a second straight month in August, indicating employment gains may be limited by the end of the year.

The number of positions waiting to be filled fell by 32,000 to 3.561 million from a revised 3.593 million the prior month that was less than previously estimated, the Labor Department said today in a statement. Hiring increased at the same time firings rose to a three-month high.

Companies cutting back in the face of slowing global economies and the looming so-called U.S. fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases and government cutbacks may be hesitant to add many workers. At the same time, a Labor Department report last week showed the unemployment rate fell below 8 percent for the first time in more than three years, indicating some improvement in the labor market.

“Firms just aren’t all that enthusiastic about hiring,” Michael Carey, chief economist for North America at Credit Agricole CIB in New York, said before the report. “They’re very prudent at the moment. The uncertainty about global growth and growth in the U.S. is causing people to pull back and wait. I don’t expect that to lift in the next month or two.”

Today’s report helps illuminate the dynamics behind the government’s monthly employment figures. In September, the jobless rate fell to 7.8 percent, the lowest level since January 2009, from 8.1 percent the prior month, the Labor Department said Oct. 5. Payrolls rose by 114,000 workers after a 142,000 gain in August. Private employment, which excludes government agencies, rose by 104,000 in September.

Hiring Climbs

The number of people hired in August rose to 4.39 million, pushing up the hiring rate to 3.3 percent from 3.2 percent, according to today’s report.

Job openings increased for workers in construction, professional and business services and retail trade, while manufacturing, accommodation and food services and the education and health services showed declines.

Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, increased to a three-month high of 1.848 million from 1.582 million a month before.

Applied Materials Inc., the largest producer of chipmaking equipment, said last week it plans to eliminate 900 to 1,300 jobs, or 6 percent to 9 percent of its worldwide workforce. Campbell Soup Co., the world’s largest soup maker, said Sept. 27 it plans to close two plants that employ more than 700 in the U.S. as demand declines and productivity improves.

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