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10:27 a.m. ET, May 1, 2024

Job openings fall to lowest level in three years

Jobseekers and representatives at a job fair at Brunswick Community College are seen in Bolivia, North Carolina, on April 11.

Allison Joyce/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Labor demand cooled more than expected in March, as the number of job openings in the US fell to their lowest level in more than three years, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Wednesday.

US employers had an estimated 8.49 million available jobs, according to the BLS’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report released Wednesday. Economists were expecting 8.67 million openings, a lower total than the 8.81 million recorded for February.

There are now 1.3 jobs for every job seeker. During the pandemic recovery, that ratio hovered at around 2 to 1.

In February 2020, openings were just shy of 7 million.

The Federal Reserve believes that more slack in the labor market can help in the fight to bring down inflation. When there’s an imbalance in the supply and demand for workers, it could cause wages to rise and, in turn, prompt companies to raise prices.

To that end, one particular JOLTS metric has risen in importance to the Fed and economists alike: The quits rate, which dipped to 2.1%, its lowest level since August 2020.

Higher quit rates are both signs of worker confidence in the labor market as well as a potential source of inflation, as job-switching typically can result in a bigger pay bump. Wage gains have cooled from their pandemic-era spikes; however, they remain above historical averages and what the Fed would like to see.

Hiring activity pulled back as well in March, with an estimated 5.5 million hires versus 5.78 million the month before.

Layoff activity, however, remains low. Those dropped to 1.53 million in March, landing at their lowest level since December 2022.

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