US job openings slide for the first time in 6 months in August – and more people quit than ever

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A man hands his resume to an employer at the 25th annual Central Florida Employment Council Job Fair at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.
  • US job openings dropped to 10.4 million from 11.1 million in August, according to JOLTS data published Wednesday.
  • The reading missed the median estimate of 10.9 million openings and snapped a five-month streak of record highs.
  • The report also shows openings continuing to exceed workers and hiring slowing sharply.

Job openings fell for the first time in six months as the labor market's recovery slumped in August.

Openings fell to 10.4 million from 11.1 million, according to Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, data published Tuesday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected openings to drop to 10.93 million. The reading marks the first decline since December 2020.

The report signals the labor shortage still going strong in August as the Delta wave intensified. Openings first shot higher through the spring as businesses struggled to attract workers. The labor shortage quickly led some firms to raise wages, while others waited for the virus threat to fade. And while job creation boomed through the summer, openings kept rising to fresh records.

August payroll growth shows Delta's impact on job creation. The US economy added just 366,000 jobs that month, down from the 1.1-million-payroll gain seen in July and less than half the median forecast. The Delta variant was now officially hampering the hiring recovery, and September gains weren't any better. Data out Friday showed the US creating just 194,000 payrolls last month, marking the smallest one-month gain of the pandemic era.

The August JOLTS data suggests labor demand held strong amid the hiring slowdown. The worker-to-opening ratio tells a similar story. There were roughly 0.8 available workers for every job opening in August, matching the July reading and ending a steady decline. Readings below mean there are more listings than workers to fill them, and the ratio first fell below 1 in June.

Typically, an abundance of openings comes late in economic expansions. Yet the extraordinary amount of unfilled postings pulled the ratio below zero far more quickly than in past recoveries.

Separately, quits rocketed to a record-high 4.3 million from 4 million in August. Quits have been elevated throughout the spring and summer as workers ditch their old jobs for new work. The extraordinary amount of quitting shows Americans' confidence in their ability to find work. Still, the shakeup is sure to slow the return to pre-pandemic employment levels.

Where Americans can find jobs and where they're leaving them

The JOLTS data lags the government's payrolls reports by one month, meaning some takeaways are already stale by the time they're published. Still, the Tuesday report reveals just where labor demand is booming and where it's drying up.

Openings dropped the most in the health care and social assistance sector, with related businesses losing 224,000 postings. Hotels, restaurants, and bars shed 178,000 openings, and public schools cut 124,000 openings. Despite the declines, the three sectors still count for a great deal of the country's job openings.

Openings increased by 22,000 across federal government roles, according to the report.

The sectors with the biggest declines in openings also saw quits soar. Quits rose at hotels, restaurants, and bars by 157,000, while they increased by 25,000 at public schools. The wholesale trade sector gained 26,000 quits in August as well.

With Delta case counts ripping higher throughout the month, the latest data reflects an exodus from in-person jobs. Just as the August jobs report showed hiring following the path of the virus, the JOLTS data suggest service businesses will struggle to fill openings until the coronavirus poses less of a threat.

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