Commentary | Jobs and Unemployment

More than four unemployed workers for every job opening

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More than four unemployed workers for every job opening

by Heidi Shierholz

This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data for February 2009 (note that while employment and unemployment numbers for March are already available, the JOLTS data are released with a one-month lag).  Job openings increased by 86,000 in February, though downward revisions to earlier data erased nearly all of those gains.  In February, there were 3.0 million job openings.  Since the start of the recession in December 2007, job openings have declined by 1.4 million, a drop of 31.4%.  The dramatic decline in job openings reflects a loss of business confidence and decisions by struggling firms both to not hire new workers and to not replace workers who leave.

With the number of unemployed workers at 12.5 million in February, there were 9.5 million more job seekers than available jobs – or 4.1 jobless per job opening.  By comparison, at the start of the recession there were 1.7 unemployed workers per job opening, just 42% of the current figure.  The chart below shows the number of job seekers per job opening since January 2001.

(figure)

In March, with the unemployment rolls increasing by nearly 700,000, there were likely at least 4.5 unemployed workers per job opening.  Nearly one-quarter of unemployed workers had been unemployed for six months or longer in March, and 44% had been unemployed 15 weeks or longer.  In this labor market, where there are literally millions more unemployed workers than job openings, it is unsurprising to see jobless workers stuck in unemployment for long periods.


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