The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey shows declines in hires: As winter hits, the Biden administration will be facing a mounting, not waning, crisis

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, as of the middle of September, the economy was still 10 million jobs below where it was in February. Job growth slowed considerably over the last few months and the jobs deficit in October was easily over 11.6 million from where we would have been if the economy had continued adding jobs at the pre-pandemic pace.

Today’s BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) reports job openings changed little at 6.4 million in September while hires and layoffs fell. While the slowdown in layoffs is promising from 1.5 million to 1.3 million, the softening in hires is a concern (6.0 million to 5.9 million). The U.S. economy is seeing a significantly slower pace of hiring than we experienced in May or June—hiring is roughly where it was before the recession, which is a big problem given that we have more than 11.6 million jobs to make up. And job openings are now substantially below where they were before the recession began (6.4 million at the end of September, compared to 7.1 million on average in the year prior to the recession). No matter how it is measured, the U.S. economy is facing a huge job shortfall.

One of the most striking indicators from today’s report is the job seekers ratio, that is, the ratio of unemployed workers (averaged for mid-September and mid-October) to job openings (at the end of September). On average, there were 11.8 million unemployed workers while there were only 6.4 million job openings. This translates into a job seeker ratio of about 1.8 unemployed workers to every job opening. Another way to think about this: for every 18 workers who were officially counted as unemployed, there were only available jobs for 10 of them. That means, no matter what they did, there were no jobs for 5.4 million unemployed workers. And this misses the fact that many more weren’t counted among the unemployed. The economic pain remains widespread with more than 25 million workers hurt by the coronavirus downturn. Without congressional action to stimulate the economy, we are facing a slow, painful recovery.

As winter approaches and many families face eviction and hunger as well as growing COIVD-19 cases, the Biden administration will be facing a mounting, not waning, crisis. We cannot wait: Congress must take immediate action to provide relief to all of those unemployed workers who have no hope for employment and are desperately trying to make ends meet. The first dose of austerity exhibited by the loss to the vital enhanced unemployment insurance benefit in August is already taking a toll on job creation. At this slowing pace of job growth, it will take years to return to the pre-pandemic labor market and the economic pain will be deep and long-lasting.

Quick reminders about the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS):

  • JOLTS data provide information on all pieces that go into the net change in the number of jobs. These components include hires, layoffs, voluntary quits, and other job separations (which includes retirements and worker deaths). Putting those components together reveals the overall (or net) change.
  • JOLTS data provide information about the end of one month to the end of the next, whereas the monthly employment numbers provide information from the middle of one month to the middle of the next.