Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

Two-and-a-half years of a job-seeker’s ratio above 4-to-1

Today’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of job openings increased by 75,000 in June.

The total number of job openings in June was 3.1 million, and the total number of unemployed workers was 14.1 million (unemployment is from the Current Population Survey). The ratio of unemployed workers to job openings was thus 4.5-to-1 in June, an improvement from the revised May ratio of 4.6-to-1, but still extremely high.  By comparison, in December 2000 the job-seeker’s ratio was 1.1-to-1, and the highest this ratio ever got in the early 2000s downturn was 2.8-to-1.

In assessing the dearth of job opportunities, it is useful to note that layoffs are back to pre-recession levels.  At this point workers are essentially no more likely to get laid off than they were before the recession started.  In 2006, the annual layoff rate (layoffs as a percent of total employment) averaged a pre-recession low of 1.3%, and in June of this year it was 1.4%.  Note, however, that this is an increase from 1.2% earlier this year.  Furthermore, for workers who do get laid off, or are already unemployed, the situation is abysmal, because hiring remains extremely depressed.  The number of hires in June was 25% below the average number of hires per month in 2006 (the pre-recession high for hiring), though there are roughly twice as many unemployed workers now as there were then.

June marks two-and-a-half years straight that the job seeker’s ratio has been substantially above 4-to-1. A job seeker’s ratio of 4-to-1 means that for three out of four unemployed workers, there simply are no jobs.  Two-and-a-half years—130 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.  Unfortunately, instead of helping the unemployment situation, the debt ceiling deal passed last week will slow growth and make joblessness worse.  In light of this deal, it is now more important than ever to renew emergency unemployment insurance benefits for at least another 12 months after they expire at the end of this year.

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