Job Openings in U.S. Fell by 156,000 in November


Bloomberg

By Bob Willis

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) — Job openings in the U.S. fell in November to the lowest level in four months, a sign employers are reluctant to expand staff even as payroll reductions waned from earlier last year.

Openings declined by 156,000 to 2.42 million, the second- lowest level since records began in 2000, the Labor Department said today in Washington. The number of unfilled positions was down 50 percent since peaking in June 2007.

“It confirms the suspicion that most of the improvement in non-farm payroll employment has been due to reduced firing and not renewed hiring,” said Zach Pandl, an economist at Nomura Securities International Inc. in New York. “This is the last shoe to drop for the recovery in the labor market and we’re still waiting.”

Payrolls dropped more than anticipated in December after revisions showed a gain in the prior month that was the first since the recession began, Labor Department figures showed last week. Unemployment that’s forecast to stay above 10 percent for the first half of the year may make it harder for consumer spending to accelerate.

The rate of job openings in November dropped to 1.8 percent from 1.9 percent. The separations rate, which includes dismissals and those who quit their jobs, rose to 3.3 percent from 3.2 percent the prior month.

Wider Trade Gap

The Commerce Department earlier today reported that the U.S. trade deficit grew 9.7 percent to $36.4 billion. Imports were up 2.6 percent, reflecting a rise in oil prices, and exports rose to the highest level in a year.

Payrolls fell by 85,000 last month after a 4,000 increase in November that was the first gain since December 2007, according to Labor Department figures released on Jan. 8. The unemployment rate held at 10 percent, near the 26-year high of 10.1 percent that was reached in October.

Companies “are still reluctant to invest and hire,” partly because they’re awaiting government changes to health care, tax and climate-change policies, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart said yesterday.

“There’s a limit to what monetary policy can do” to improve the labor market, Lockhart told reporters after a speech in Atlanta. The prospects for employment “will come back with credit growing.”

Government Stimulus

The government may need to continue “targeted” programs to stimulate the economy even as growth in the first half of this year will likely be enough to create jobs, President Barack Obama’s chief economist said.

“We are getting closer to stability in employment,” Christina Romer, the head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Jan. 10 on ABC News’s “This Week” program. “The next step is to finally start adding jobs. I think we are on the path of steady progress.”

United Parcel Service Inc., the world’s largest package- delivery company, said Jan. 8 that it plans to cut 1,800 jobs as it shrinks management at a U.S. unit. Atlanta-based UPS said it will reduce the number of U.S. operating districts to 20 from 46 to streamline management of its small-package unit.

AOL Inc., the Internet company spun off from Time Warner Inc. in December, this week said it started involuntary job cuts after 1,100 employees accepted buyout packages as part of a restructuring.

Among companies considering adding workers, Caterpillar Inc., the world’s largest maker of bulldozers, aims to bring back some laid-off workers this year, Chief Executive Officer Jim Owens said last month.

“We’ll gradually begin to call people back and to rebuild our overall sales and ability to ship product,” Owens said in a Dec. 11 interview with Bloomberg Television. “It will gradually begin to pick up as 2010 unfolds.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Willis in Washington bwillis@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: January 12, 2010 11:45 EST

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