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News from EPI Ratio of Job Seekers to Job Openings Slips Below 3-to-1 for First Time in Nearly Five Years, but Is Still as High as in Worst Month of Early 2000s Downturn

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The August Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the total number of job openings increased by 75,000 in August.  That, along with the upward revision of 119,000 job openings to earlier data, brought the August level of job openings to 3.9 million. However, there were 11.3 million job seekers in August (unemployment data are from the Current Population Survey), for a “job-seekers ratio”—the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings— of 2.9-to-1. Though August was the first time the ratio of job seekers to job openings fell below 3.0-to-1 in nearly 5 years, today’s ratio of 2.9-to-1 matches the highest the ratio ever got in the early 2000s downturn.

In her analysis, EPI Economist Heidi Shierholz looks at the number of unemployed workers and the number of job openings by industry to examine the common claim that the labor market’s main problem is that available workers lack the skills needed for the sectors with job openings. If this were the case, she explains, some sectors would have more job openings than unemployed workers. However, there are between 1.3 and 9.8 times as many unemployed workers as job openings in every industry. “In other words, even in the industry with the most favorable ratio of unemployed workers to job openings—finance and insurance—there are still 30 percent more unemployed workers than job openings,” said Shierholz. “In no industry does the number of job openings even come close to the number of people looking for work, which demonstrates that the main problem in the labor market is a broad-based lack of demand for workers.”