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News from EPI New Data Show Grim Picture of Job Opportunities in the Labor Market

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The June Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics paint a grim picture of job opportunities in today’s labor market.

In her analysis, EPI economist Heidi Shierholz shows that there has been very little improvement in the hires rate since its low of the recession in June 2009, and there has been no sustained improvement whatsoever in the hires rate for the past two yearsThe hires rate—the share of total employment accounted for by new hires—is an important comprehensive measure of the strength of job opportunities because it incorporates two components: 1) net new hires, and 2) new hires that are due to “churn” (i.e., hires that are replacing vacated or lost positions, described in more detail below). In June, 3.1 percent of all jobs were hires. This was a substantial drop from May, when the hires rate was 3.3 percent.

The JOLTS data are a regular reminder that there is always a great deal of “churn” in the labor market. Although the labor market added 162,000 jobs in July, this is a net change, masking the millions of workers who are hired and who leave jobs every month. Over the last year, an average of 4.3 million workers were hired every month and an average of 4.2 million workers either left their jobs voluntarily or were laid off every month. These hires and separations numbers, however, are currently very low—when the labor market is stronger, there is much more churn.

The reason there is less churn today is that job opportunities are so scarce that employed workers are much less likely to quit the job they have. In 2006 and 2007, nearly 3 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs each month. That dropped to a low of 1.6 million in September 2009. It has since increased somewhat, but is still extremely low. In June, 2.2 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs, a decline of 73,000 from May. Because leaving a job for a better opportunity can be an important way for workers to advance, this persistent depressed rate of voluntary quits represents millions of lost opportunities. 

Job openings were essentially flat in June, increasing by 29,000 to 3.9 million, following an upward revision of 79,000 to the May data. Job openings are improving slowly and remain very depressed. In 2007, there were 4.5 million job openings each month, so June’s level of 3.9 million is more than 12 percent below its prerecession level.

Read the full JOLTS analysis by EPI economist Heidi Shierholz.