Job openings climb to record highs in May as the worker shortage charges on

Starbucks Now Hiring sign
A ‘We’re Hiring!’ sign is displayed at a Starbucks on Hollywood Boulevard on June 23, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • US job openings rose to 9.21 million from 9.19 million in May, marking another record high.
  • Economists expected openings to hold at 9.3 million. The reading still marks a fifth straight jump.
  • Openings matched the number of jobless Americans for the first time since the pandemic began.
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Job openings in the US edged higher in May as businesses continued to jostle over an unusually small supply of workers.

Openings rose to a record-high 9.21 million from 9.19 million last month, according to Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, data published Wednesday. That landed below the median estimate of 9.33 million from economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Job listings climbed for five straight months as vaccination began and reopening led businesses to hire. The May increase in openings also came as hiring rebounded after dismal growth in April. Taken together, the data suggests the nationwide labor shortage grew somewhat less intense as the US entered summer.

June’s payrolls data further supports the outlook. Job creation improved again, with the US adding the most payrolls since August. Still, the unemployment rate ticked slightly higher and labor force participation held steady, implying continued slack in the job market.

Experts largely expect the labor market’s recovery to accelerate further through the summer as various factors keeping Americans from work fade. The start of the school year should ease childcare pressures and the ending of enhanced unemployment benefits should also boost participation, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers in June. There also “may be a bit of a speed limit” on matching people with openings, but that process should play out into the fall, he added.

“I think it’s clear, and I am confident, that we are on a path to a very strong labor market,” he said in June 16 press conference. “I would expect that we would see strong job creation building up over the summer and going into the fall.”

Hiring, layoffs, and job availability

The monthly JOLTS data – which lags the corresponding jobs report by one month – provides even more detail around pandemic-driven dislocations in the labor market. The survey took on even more relevance as the labor shortage emerged, giving economists insight into which pockets of the economy are struggling the most to rehire.

Broadly, there was an opening for every available worker in May, compared to 1.1 in April. The ratio shows the US boasting as many openings as workers for the first time since the COVID-19 recession began. By comparison, it took roughly 8 years after the financial crisis for openings to match workers.

The state and local government education and educational services sectors added the most openings, with gains of 46,000 and 35,000, respectively. The arts, entertainment, and recreation sector lost the most openings with a decline of 80,000.

Quits, which soared to all-time highs in April, fell slightly to 3.57 million from 3.99 million. Quits were most common in the professional and business services sector. While down from the April reading, the elevated quits count signals Americans are confident in their abilities to find better jobs as the economy recovers.

Layoffs also fell slightly to 1.37 million from 1.45 million. The layoffs rate dipped to a record-low 0.9%.