U.S. job market still in need of a jolt

June 18, 2013

The monthly payrolls report from the U.S. Labor Department will always be the big kahuna of economic releases.  Other, less prominent indicators of the American job market nonetheless can offer additional insight into the employment backdrop.

Take the clumsily-acronymed JOLTS report, which stands for Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. It shows the ratio between job openings and job seekers, as well as the rate of new hires. The latter, unfortunately, is not particularly comforting.

The number of job openings at the end of April was 3.8 million, down slightly from the prior month’s 3.9 million.

Goldman Sachs economist David Mericle explains the importance of this seemingly minor indicator to Fed deliberations on monetary policy:

The hiring rate is one of the key indicators for the labor market outlook. The hiring rate dropped sharply during the recession and the layoffs rate spiked. In the last couple of years, the layoffs rate has stabilized at a level slightly below the pre-recession average, but hiring has disappointed. An improvement in the hiring rate is essential both for reducing the unemployment rate and for bringing back discouraged workers who have dropped out of the labor force as a result of poor employment prospects.

For this reason, both Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Vice Chair Janet Yellen have highlighted the hiring rate as one of the main labor market indicators where they would like to see ‘substantial improvement’ before reducing asset purchases. An improvement in hiring is particularly important for the labor market outlook because it signals that businesses are confident enough to take on new employees.So far, however, hiring has remained weak. Last month, we showed that hiring remains depressed across industries and across establishment sizes.

(The) Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) for April showed improvement in both the total hiring rate (to 3.3%) and the private-sector hiring rate (to 3.6%). Despite this improvement, hiring remains weak compared to other labor market indicators.The total hiring rate  (is) … a principal component of 24 labor market indicators included in the ‘Greenbook,’ a chart-pack prepared for the FOMC before each meeting. While the broader labor market tracker has been a bit below the level of normal recoveries, the hiring rate remains depressed.


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