Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

Number of job seekers per available job continues steep climb

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While the gradual moderating of job loss is a very welcome sign, it is nevertheless getting harder every month for job seekers to find a job as more people continue to become unemployed and openings for new jobs continue to drop.

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the August report from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), which showed that job openings decreased by 21,000 to 2.4 million in August. At the same time, the number of unemployed workers increased by 466,000 to 14.9 million. Thus there were 12.5 million more unemployed workers than job openings in August, or 6.3 job seekers per available job (see Figure). This was up from 6.0 in July. Importantly, the ratio of job seekers to job openings does not include job seekers who are currently employed but looking for work due to a lack of job security in their current position, so the ratio actually understates the number of job seekers who are competing for each job opening.

[Figure: Number of job seekers per job opening, August 2009]

Between December 2007 and August 2009, the number of job openings declined by 2 million, or 45.5%. However, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the declines are slowing—from September 2008 to March 2009, the losses averaged 156,000 per month, but from June 2009 to August 2009, the losses averaged less than a third of that, at 45,000 per month.

Although unemployment numbers for September became available last Friday, JOLTS data are released with a one-month lag. However, given last Friday’s announcement that unemployment increased by 214,000 in September, the number of job seekers per job opening was almost certainly at least 6.3 in September. While layoffs are abating, until employers start posting jobs and hiring again, finding employment will continue to be very difficult for the millions of jobless workers in this country.


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