- US job openings gained to 7.4 million from 6.9 million in February, according to JOLTS data.
- Economists expected openings to hold at 6.9 million through the month.
- The hiring rate rose to 4% from 3.8% as businesses prepared for reopening to lift demand.
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US job openings gained more than expected in February as daily coronavirus case counts fell from winter highs and vaccine distribution improved.
Openings increased to 7.4 million from 7.1 million in February, according to Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, data published Tuesday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg projected openings would hold steady at 6.9 million.
The reading marks a second straight increase and brings openings to their highest level since January 2019.
The health care and food and accommodation sectors counted for most of the gains, according to the report. The state and local government education industry shed 117,000 openings, the biggest decline seen that month.
The year-high level of openings signals businesses are gearing up to hire more as the economy reopens. February saw daily virus cases tumble to their lowest point since fall 2020. The average daily vaccination rate, meanwhile, surged to 1.7 million doses from 1.3 at the start of the month, according to Bloomberg data.
Still, the labor market has plenty of progress to make before returning to its late-2019 strength. The US hiring rate rose to 4% from 3.8% in February, hovering around levels seen before the health crisis. Yet the economy was still down roughly 10 million jobs at the end of that month, signaling the climb out of the COVID-19 recession could last into 2022.
About 1.4 Americans competed for each opening in February, unchanged from the figure seen one month prior. That compares to pre-pandemic levels of roughly 0.8, meaning there were more openings than job seekers.
Separations, which track quits and layoffs, jumped to 5.5 million from 5.3 million. Total quits rose by 51,000 to 3.4 million.
Layoffs and discharges gained by 51,000 to about 1.8 million. The layoff rate held steady at 1.2%.
The second month of 2021 also saw an uptick in nonfarm payrolls after months of meager improvements and unexpected declines. The US economy added 468,000 jobs in February, according to revised data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
More recent releases suggest job openings increased further last month. Nonfarm payrolls grew by 916,000 in March, beating the estimate for a 660,000-payroll climb and marking the strongest one-month gain since August. The report signals that, as vaccination continues and allows the economy to reopen, hiring will pick up further. Economists on Wall Street and in the Federal Reserve largely agree, with many anticipating the unemployment rate will decline to roughly 4.5% by the end of the year.