Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

Job seekers ratio continues 29-month rut

Today’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of job openings increased by a modest 21,000 in May.

The total number of job openings in May was 3.0 million, and the total number of unemployed workers was 13.9 million. The ratio of unemployed workers to job openings was 4.7-to-1 in May, as it was in April. The job seekers ratio has been above 4.3-to-1 for 29 consecutive months, meaning that for nearly two-and-a-half years, there has been no available job for at least three out of four unemployed workers. In the last recovery, which followed the 2001 recession, the ratio of unemployed to job openings never exceeded 2.8-to-1.

The key difference between the current and previous recoveries has been the lack of job openings in this recovery, reflecting the weak labor market in the aftermath of the financial crisis and a shortfall in demand. In the first 23 months of recovery after the 2001 recession, there were a cumulative total of 82.5 million job openings. In the first 23 months of recovery following the 2007 recession, there were only 64.4 million jobs, or 22 percent fewer jobs—despite the fact that employment and the size of the economy were larger at the start of this recovery.

The May JOLTS report also shows just how far the labor market remains from peak levels. In 2006, when annual layoffs were lowest and annual hiring was highest in the post-2001 recession period, the job openings rate (job openings as a percent of total employment) averaged 3.2 percent each month while the layoff rate was at 1.3 percent. In the first five months of 2011, the layoff rate dropped to 1.2 percent on average, but job openings remained at 2.2 percent.

If today’s labor market had the same job openings rate attained in 2006, there would be 1.4 million more openings and only 3.2 job seekers per opening, instead of 4.7. As it is, unemployed workers still face an incredibly difficult labor market.

Research assistance provided by Kathryn Edwards

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