WASHINGTON — Job openings dropped in December from a more than four-year high, showing further progress in the labor market will be slow to develop.
The number of positions waiting to be filled fell by 173,000 to 3.62 million, the fewest since September, from a revised 3.79 million the prior month that was the most since May 2008, the Labor Department said today in a statement. Hiring and firing also cooled.
More work opportunities would help reduce a jobless rate that’s been either 7.8 percent or 7.9 percent since September, and hearten Federal Reserve policy makers who say unemployment is too high. A Labor Department report earlier this month showed employers took on 157,000 workers in January, the fewest in four months.
“We can’t seem to generate any positive momentum in the labor market for more than a quarter,” said Omair Sharif, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Conn. “Domestic demand is still growing at a slow pace, and that’s keeping job growth in check, and all the crises, whether they’re in Europe or homemade, are keeping a tight lid on our ability to maintain any momentum.”
Today’s report helps illuminate the dynamics underlying the government’s monthly employment figures. Payrolls increased by a revised 196,000 workers in December and 247,000 the month before, the Labor Department said Feb. 1. Revisions added a total of 127,000 jobs to the count in the last two months of 2012.
The number of workers hired in December dropped to 4.19 million from 4.4 million, pushing the hiring rate down to 3.1 percent from 3.3 percent, according to today’s report.
Six of seven major industry categories showed a drop in job openings in December, led by professional and business services, which had a 92,000 decrease in jobs available. Trade and transportation followed as retailers sought less help.
Construction was the only category to show an increase, with job openings rising by 3,000 to 92,000.
Total separations, which include firings and those who leave their jobs voluntarily, decreased to 4.07 million in December from 4.22 million. That drove the separations rate down to 3 percent from 3.2 percent in November.
Of those, 2.16 million people quit their jobs in December, down from 2.18 million in the prior month.
In the 12 months ended in December, the economy created a net 1.8 million jobs, representing 51.8 million hires and about 50 million separations, today’s report showed.