The numbers: The number of job openings in the U.S. fell in November to the lowest level since early summer, but companies say one of their biggest hurdles is a lack of qualified applicants and not an unwillingness to hire.
Job openings fell to 6.89 million from 7.13 million, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Openings still easily exceed the 6 million people classified by the government as unemployed.
The labor market remains on fire despite somewhat fewer job openings. The U.S. added a whopping 312,000 new jobs in December, for example, to keep the unemployment rate near a 49-year low of 3.9%.
Job openings had hit a record high of 7.29 million in August.
What happened: Job openings declined in most segments of the economy, including a 45,000 drop for construction workers.
Openings increased in transportation and warehousing ahead of the holiday shopping season.
The share of people who left jobs on their own, known as the quits rate, fell a notch for the second month in a row to 2.5% among private-sector employees. While it’s still near an all-time high, the quits rate appears to have leveled off.
The quits rate rises when more workers feel secure enough to leave one job for another. The recent decline could be a sign the labor market is about as good as it’s going to get.
Big picture: The latest surveys of business executives across the country suggest the economy slowed toward the end of 2018, but not dramatically so. The huge increase in jobs in December is a sign the economy still has plenty of zip.
Most companies are still hiring. The biggest complaint is a shortage of skilled workers to fill open jobs.
A new survey of small businesses in the U.S., for instance, found that companies have lots of unfilled jobs because of a dearth of qualified applicants. Even higher pay and benefits haven’t been enough to do the trick.
A similar survey of manufacturing firms showed the same problem: Good workers are hard to find.
What they are saying? “In a labor market this tight, I’d expect quitting and job-to-job moves to be steady or picking up, definitely not declining,” said economist Nick Bunker at Indeed Hiring Lab. “I would not ring alarm bells over this — this is less a sign of this tight labor market ending and more of a question about what it will look like moving forward.”
Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average
and S&P 500
rose again on Tuesday morning. Stocks have rallied since last Friday after a strong U.S. employment report and fresh hope that the U.S. and China can resolve a festering dispute over trade.
The 10-year Treasury yield
rose to 2.70%, but it is still well below a seven-year high of 3.23% reached in October.