Job openings stayed at record high of 9.2 million in May

Job openings held at a record high of 9.2 million in May while resignations dropped slightly from a historic peak, according to data released Wednesday by the Labor Department.

The number of open jobs on the final business day of May changed little from the peak set in April. Quits fell to 3.6 million from a record high of 3.9 million in April, but remained well above levels seen earlier in the year.

“It’s a job seeker’s market as worker demand remains at record highs,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, in a Wednesday analysis.

“Elevated quits emphasize that labor shortages are a double whammy for employers — it’s not just harder to hire workers, it’s also harder to retain them.”

The U.S. added 850,000 jobs in June, rising sharply from gains of 583,000 in May and 278,000 in April, as industries hit hardest by the pandemic began hiring in droves. Even so, businesses in the leisure, hospitality and retail industries have struggled to bring in enough workers to keep up with soaring consumer demand.

Restaurants, bars and hotels created 89,000 new openings in May before hiring 340,000 workers in June, but were also one of the only sectors where resignations continued to rise. 

“While no longer at record levels, the high level of quits means workers are still confident enough to leave their jobs for a new one,” Zhao said. 

Industries hit hard during the pandemic have seen higher levels of turnover, wage pressure and competition for a smaller pool of applicants. While the U.S. is 6.8 million jobs down from February 2020, millions of Americans who lost their jobs have yet to take to offers or even begin looking for jobs.

A lack of child care options, health concerns and a hesitance to take high-intensity jobs with relatively lower pay are among some obstacles keeping potential workers on the sidelines.

It will likely take another month, however, to assess the impact of 26 states pulling out of pandemic-expanded unemployment benefits at the end of last month.

“It also seems reasonable to think that the looming September 6 expiration of enhanced benefits, and the full reopening of schools and childcare at the same time, is generating urgency among people in jobs to switch now, when employers are desperate. The labor market could become much more crowded in the fall,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a Wednesday analysis.

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