Job openings in the U.S. decrease from almost five-year high

Job openings in the U.S. eased in March from an almost five-year high, indicating employers are waiting to see how the economy performs as federal budget cuts take effect.

The number of positions waiting to be filled declined by 55,000 to 3.84 million from a revised 3.9 million the prior month that were the most since May 2008, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Hiring decelerated and firings climbed, the report also showed.

Bigger strides in the pace of hiring are needed to propel wage gains and drive the U.S. economy at the same time Americans contend with higher taxes. Limited job openings indicate companies may be reluctant to add staff amid signs the expansion is slackening this quarter.

“The pace of improvement in the labor market is slowing along with growth, but job growth is still strong enough to bring the unemployment rate down over time,” Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist in New York for Barclays Plc, said before the report. “Both things can be true at the same time, and that’s where we think we are.”

Today’s report sheds light on the government’s monthly employment data. Payrolls grew by 138,000 workers in March, a step down from the 332,000 pace in February that was the fastest in almost three years, the Labor Department reported last week. Job creation accelerated in April, with payrolls rising by 165,000.

Less Hiring

The number of workers hired in March fell to 4.26 million, pushing the hiring rate down to 3.2% from 3.3%, according to today’s report.

Job openings slipped most at professional and business services, followed by health care and social assistance. They climbed among retailers and hotels and restaurants.

The number of dismissals climbed to 1.69 million in March, a four-month high, from 1.57 million the prior month. Another 2.16 million quit their jobs, down from 2.29 million in the prior month. The combination kept the total separations rate at 3.1% in March for a third month.

In the 12 months ended in March, the economy created a net 1.7 million jobs, representing 51.8 million hires and about 50.1 million separations, today’s report showed.

Considering the 11.7 million Americans who were unemployed in March, the figures indicated there were about 3 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.

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