As the U.S. economy begins its tenth year of growth since the end of the Great Recession, American employers are looking to fill some 6.6 million open positions, according to the latest numbers in the government’s Job Openings and Labor turnover report.
That means job hunting in the U.S. is better than it’s been in nearly a decade, especially for those who are looking for work in the South.
The number of job openings dipped slightly in May, but continued to outpace last year’s levels. The decline in openings came as hiring increased by 173,000 to 5.8 million. And the rate of hiring – as a share of all jobs – rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.9 percent, the highest since March, 2007.
The result was a job opening for every unemployed person who was looking for one.
Job creation was strongest in the 18 states in the South, where 2.2 million jobs were open in May.
With the unemployment rate at historically low levels nationwide, higher levels of job openings suggests that companies are having a harder time finding skilled workers.
Demand continues to be strongest for service industry jobs, including retail, health care, hotel and restaurant workers.
Much of the job creation is coming from small businesses. About half of the open jobs in May were posted by companies with fewer than 500 workers. In a separate survey published Tuesday by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, small businesses reported that the shortage of qualified workers was the main problem affecting their operations in June.
Another sign of a strong job market is seen in the so-called “quit rate” – an indication that workers are confident enough about the job prospects to leave their current position.
In May, the number of workers leaving jobs of their own free will increased by 212,000 to 3.3 million. That lifted the quits rate one-tenth of a percentage point to 2.4 percent, the highest since April 2001.
Workers voluntarily quitting their jobs in May were concentrated in the health care and social assistance, finance and insurance, utilities, transportation and warehousing industries.
The rise in the quits rate offers some hope that a long-expected rise in wages may finally pick up this year.
“Workers can hope to get the best bump in wages when they switch jobs,” said Sophia Koropeckyj, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “As workers seek to improve their lot by taking better positions they open up positions for others to climb up as well.”
Despite the tight labor market, wage inflation has remained tame. Annual wage growth as measured by average hourly earnings has struggled to break 3 percent, increasing 2.7 percent in June.