Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

No improvement in job-finding prospects since the spring

Today’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of job openings decreased by 157,000 in August to 3.1 million. While there is substantial month-to-month variation in job openings, the general trend is bleak—there has been no net improvement in the number of job openings since March 2011.

The Current Population Survey reports that the total number of unemployed workers in August was 14.0 million. The ratio of unemployed workers to job openings was thus 4.6-to-1 in August, a deterioration from the July ratio of 4.3-to-1. By comparison, in December 2000 the job seeker’s ratio was 1.1-to-1. Furthermore, the highest this ratio ever got in the early 2000s downturn was 2.8-to-1. August marks three years straight that the job seeker’s ratio has been at or above 3-to-1. Put another way: we’ve exceeded the highest level reached in the early 2000s recession for the last three years straight. And we’ve been substantially above 4-to-1 for the last two years and eight months.  A job seeker’s ratio of more than 4-to-1 means that for more than three out of four unemployed workers, there simply are no jobs. Two years and eight months—139 weeks—of a job seeker’s ratio above 4-to-1 is why the current extended unemployment insurance benefits, which last a maximum of 99 weeks, remain crucial. Furthermore, extending these benefits will not contribute to keeping the unemployment rate high, as some economists have claimed.

With research assistance from Nicholas Finio and Hilary Wething