US job openings fell slightly in November but remain high by historic standards

Jan 3, 2024, 7:22 AM

A worker handles labels at an Amazon same-day delivery shipping center in Woodland Park, N.J., on D...

A worker handles labels at an Amazon same-day delivery shipping center in Woodland Park, N.J., on December 18, 2023. On Wednesday, the Labor Department reports on job openings and labor turnover for November. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

(AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s employers posted 8.8 million jobs openings in November, down slightly from October and fewest since March 2021. But demand for workers remains strong by historical standards despite higher interest rates.

Wednesday’s report from the Labor Department showed that the number of job vacancies dipped from 8.9 million in October. It also showed that the number of people quitting their jobs — a sign of confidence in the job market — fell to its lowest level since February 2021. The number of quits is now roughly where it stood before the pandemic erupted in February 2020.

In November, job openings dropped by 128,000 in transportation, warehousing and utilities and by 78,000 at hotels and restaurants. The federal government reduced job openings by 58,000. By contrast, openings in construction rose by 43,000 and in retail by 42,000.

Wednesday’s report, which is called the Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, reinforced other recent evidence that the job market is slowing from its robust heights but remains solid. Layoffs, for example, are still at unusually low levels.

In the face of rising interest rates, job openings have gradually but steadily declined since peaking at a record 12 million in March 2022. But they remain at historically high levels: Before 2021, monthly job openings had never topped 8 million.

The inflation fighters at the Federal Reserve have raised their benchmark interest rate 11 times since March 2022 to a 22-year high of about 5.4%. They would like to see the job market cool from the red-hot levels of the past couple years, thereby reducing pressure on businesses to raise pay — and prices. Compared with outright layoffs, a decline in job openings is a relatively painless way for that to happen.

So far, the Fed appears to be on track for a so-called soft landing — avoiding a recession while slowing economic activity enough to conquer high inflation.

The unemployment rate is currently 3.7%, not far off a half-century low. And inflation is decelerating: Consumer prices were up 3.1% in November from a year earlier, down from 9.1% in mid-2022, though it remains above the Fed’s 2% target.

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US job openings fell slightly in November but remain high by historic standards