U.S. job openings rose in April to a fresh record high, along with the number of people who voluntarily left their jobs, underscoring fervent labor demand and turnover as businesses emerge from pandemic-related restrictions and the economy strengthens.
The number of available positions climbed to 9.3 million during the month, the highest on data back to 2000, from an upwardly revised 8.3 million in March, the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, showed Tuesday. The increase in vacancies was broad.
The number of people who voluntarily left their jobs increased to 4 million in April, while the quits rate rose to a series-high of 2.7%. The figure suggests workers are growing more confident in their ability to find other employment.
While companies are hiring as the economy reopens, child care obligations, lingering health concerns, skills mismatches and enhanced unemployment benefits have kept some Americans from returning to the labor force. The number of vacancies exceeded hires by 3.2 million in April, the biggest gap on record.
Hiring challenges have been so acute in recent months that half of all U.S. states have announced plans to phase out federal unemployment insurance programs early in an effort to encourage people to look for work. Meanwhile, employers have been offering bonuses, raising wages and adding benefits like health insurance to attract workers.
The latest jobs report from the Labor Department showed payrolls increased by 559,000 in May after a 278,000 gain in April, which suggests that hiring efforts started paying off last month. Still, the payrolls figure came in below estimates and leaves the labor market 7.6 million jobs short of pre-pandemic levels.
A broader labor market recovery will require a faster pace of hiring in the leisure and hospitality industry, which was hardest-hit by pandemic lockdowns. Accommodation and food services job openings jumped 349,000 in April, while hiring rose 232,000.
Manufacturing vacancies climbed by 102,000 in April, while hiring declined.
A separate report Tuesday from the National Federation of Independent Businesses showed that small business optimism eased in May for the first time in four months as firms grappled with a lack of labor and higher prices. The NFIB said last week that small-business owners had a record share of unfilled positions in May.
Total hires increased to 6.1 million in April from 6 million, while the hires rate held at 4.2%.