The latest job openings and labor turnover summary (JOLTS) report showed that job openings rose unexpectedly to 10.103 million in April. This is the first monthly increase in job openings since December. The latest figure came in above the forecast of 9.775 million vacancies.
Additionally, the quits and total separations inched down to 2.4% and 3.7%, respectively, while hires remained steady at 3.9%.
From the press release:
The number of job openings edged up to 10.1 million on the last business day of April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, the number of hires changed little at 6.1 million. Total separations decreased to 5.7 million. Within separations, quits (3.8 million) changed little, while layoffs and discharges (1.6 million) decreased. This release includes estimates of the number and rate of job openings, hires, and separations for the total nonfarm sector, by industry, and by establishment size class.
Background on JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover)
The JOLTS report is a monthly survey of job openings, hiring, and job separations (quits, layoffs, discharges) released by the BLS. Unlike the unemployment rate that measures the supply side of the labor market, JOLTS data helps gauge labor demand.
The chart below shows the monthly data points of the four components of the JOLTS series. They are quite volatile, hence the inclusion of six-month moving averages to help identify the trends. The moving average for openings was above the hires levels for over five years starting in 2015, as seen in the chart below. The openings MA briefly dipped below the hires for two months (May and June 2020), only to climb above once more in July 2020. Over the last year, job openings, hires, and quits have all been trending down with job openings moving downwards the fastest. During that same time, layoffs and discharges have been slowly trending upwards.
For comparison, here is the monthly BLS Employment Situation Summary charted with JOLTS data:
In April, there were 5.657 million unemployed workers and 10.103 million job openings. This equates to 1.79 jobs available per unemployed worker in April, up for the first time in three months.
A Population-Adjusted Perspective on JOLTS
The chart above is based on the actual numbers in the JOLTS report. A better way to view the numbers is as a percent of non-farm employment, which essentially gives us a population-adjusted version of the data. Here is that adjustment for four of the JOLTS series. The vertical axis for each is optimized for the high-low range to facilitate an understanding of the individual trends.
On the last business day of April, the number of job openings edged up to 10.1 million (+358,000). The job openings rate was little changed at 6.1 percent. In April, job openings increased in retail trade (+209,000); health care and social assistance (+185,000); and transportation, warehousing, and utilities (+154,000).
In April, the number of hires was little changed at 6.1 million, and the rate held at 3.9 percent. Hires decreased in information (-37,000).
In April, the number and rate of quits changed little at 3.8 million and 2.4 percent, respectively. The number of quits increased in wholesale trade (+29,000) but decreased in state and local government, excluding education (-18,000).
In April, the number and rate of layoffs and discharges decreased to 1.6 million (-264,000) and 1.0 percent, respectively. Layoffs and discharges decreased in construction (-113,000) and in information (-33,000).
The Business Cycle and JOLTS
Based on the six-month moving averages, we can see that:
- The openings moving average is above the hires levels.
- Hires are below their all-time high and trending down.
- Quits are below their all-time high and trending down.
- The layoffs and discharges series is below its pre-pandemic levels and very slowly trending up.
The trend in quits
To reiterate a previous point: Increases in quits suggest employment flexibility. Quits tend to be inversely correlated with layoffs & discharges, which are associated with business cycle weakness. Following the great recession, quits began increasing in 2010, and the rate accelerated in 2013 and continued to rise until the COVID pandemic. As the economy rebounded from the COVID downturn, we saw quits reach an all-time high in November 2021 and again in March 2022 in what has been called "The Great Resignation". Layoffs & discharges fell post great-recession and leveled out for many years. Due to the COVID pandemic, layoffs and discharges saw all-time highs but are now making their way back to pre-pandemic levels.
It would, of course, be excellent if we had historical JOLTS data stretching back through several business cycles. However, the BLS only began tracking this data in December 2000. The time frame is quite limited compared to the main BLS data series in the monthly employment report, many of which go back to 1948, and the enormously popular non-farm employment (PAYEMS) series goes back to 1939. Nevertheless, there are some clear JOLTS correlations with the most recent business cycle trends.
The JOLTS reports is interesting to watch, but the volatility of the data, which is also subject to revisions, encourages caution in taking the data for any given month very seriously.
This article was originally written by Doug Short. From 2016-2022, it was improved upon and updated by Jill Mislinski. Starting in January 2023, AP Charts pages will be maintained by Jennifer Nash at VettaFi | Advisor Perspectives
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Employment Situation Summary
ADP Employment Report
Civilian Labor Force, Unemployment Claims, and the Business Cycle
Long-Term Trends by Age Group
Aging Work Force
Ratio of Part Time and Full-Time Employment
Workforce Recovery Since Recession
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