US job openings jump to two-year high in February


WASHINGTON: US job openings rose to a two-year high in February while hiring picked up as strengthening domestic demand amid increased Covid-19 vaccinations and additional pandemic aid from the government boost companies’ needs for more workers.

The Labour Department’s monthly Job Openings and Labour Turnover Survey, or JOLTS report, on Tuesday was the latest indication that the labour market had turned the corner after shedding jobs in December as the nation buckled under a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections and depleted government relief.

“Labour demand should continue to heat up as companies brace for a post-pandemic burst in pent-up demand,“ said Lydia Boussour, lead US economist at Oxford Economics in New York.

Job openings, a measure of labour demand, increased 268,000 to 7.4 million as of the last day of February. That was the highest level since January 2019 and pushed job openings 5.1% above their pre-pandemic level.

The second straight monthly rise in vacancies lifted the jobs openings rate to a record 4.9% from 4.7% in January.

There were an additional 233,000 job openings in the health care and social assistance industry. Vacancies in the accommodation and food services sector, one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic, increased by 104,000 jobs. Arts, entertainment and recreation job openings rose 56,000.

But vacancies decreased in state and local government education as well as educational services and information.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast job openings would rise to 6.995 million in February. The report followed on the heels of news on Friday that the economy added 916,000 jobs in March, the most in seven months.

The labour market is being boosted by an acceleration in the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations and the White House’s recently passed US$1.9 trillion (RM7.8 trillion) pandemic relief package, which is sending additional US$1,400 checks to qualified households and fresh funding for businesses.

Demand for labour could increase further as more services businesses reopen. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday fully vaccinated people could safely travel at “low risk.”

An Institute for Supply Management survey on Monday showed services businesses reporting they “have recalled everyone put on waivers and made new hires” and had “additional employees added to service the needs of new customers at new locations.”

In February, hiring rose 273,000, the largest gain in nine months, to 5.7 million. That boosted the hiring rate to 4% from 3.8% in January. Hiring was led by the accommodation and food services industries, which increased by 220,000 jobs. But hiring decreased in state and local government education.

Hiring still has a long way to go, with employment 8.4 million jobs below its peak in February 2020.

With unemployment well above pre-pandemic levels, competition for jobs remains tough. There were 1.4 unemployed people for every open job in February, well above 0.82 on the eve of the first wave of the pandemic lockdowns 12 months ago. – Reuters

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