U.S. Job Openings held at Record Level headed into Summer

Employers are clamoring for workers at hotels, restaurants and other services businesses as the pandemic eases.

Caption and graphic courtesy by the Wall Street Journal

By guest author Bryan Mena from the Wall Street Journal. Eric Morath contributed to this article.

The number of job openings held at record levels headed into the summer as employers sought to fill positions from a limited pool of workers.

The Labour Department on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, said job openings rose at the end of May by 16000, pushing the total to a new high of 9.2 million jobs in records dating back to 2000.

The number of available jobs nearly matched the 9.3 million Americans who were unemployed but actively seeking jobs in May, reflecting an unusual tightness in the job market. The number of unemployed workers has exceeded available jobs in data back to 2000, except for a period from 2018 to early 2020 when the unemployment rate trended near a 50-year low.

Services industries, such as leisure and hospitality, led the figures and maintained momentum in May as the pandemic eased and more consumer-facing business fully reopened, Labour Department data showed.

“We’re seeing lots of strong, urgent demand for workers,” said Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at job-search site Indeed.com. “The question is how many hires those job openings get and what’s the amount of demand that’s going to happen in the fall or the winter.”

According to Indeed.com, total job postings in the week ended June 18 were up around 30 % from February 2020 levels.

After falling about 40 % in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic emerged, job postings have risen fairly steadily, according to Indeed data, surpassing levels from before Covid-19 early this year. States in recent months have more fully reopened their economies as more people got Covid-19 vaccinations and the number of cases declined.

Workers continued to quit jobs at a high rate as businesses competed to fill positions. The seasonally adjusted quit rate fell from a record 2.8 % in April to 2.5 % in May, after steadily increasing since January.

Jobs in restaurants, hotels and salons accounted for about half of the payroll gains seen in June, the strongest overall increase in 10 months. Workers’ wages across the board also increased last month.

The accommodation and food service sector had the highest rate of available jobs, as a share of all positions in the field, 9.1 %, at the end of May, according to the Labour Department. Personal and other services, including jobs at salon and dry cleaners, also had a rising share of openings, as did the health and education sectors.

The rate of openings fell in construction and finance in May.

Regionally, the South had the highest openings rate at 6.2 %, unchanged from the prior month. The rate of openings edged higher in the West and fell modestly in the Midwest, according to the Labour Department.

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Postings in the hospitality and tourism sector rose above February 2020’s pre-pandemic level for the first time in June, according to Indeed data.

Despite the recent uptick in demand, the lodging industry said hotels are still struggling across the country, particularly in cities where hotels relied heavily on business and convention-related travel before the pandemic. The American Hotel and Lodging Association in a July 1 report said that room revenue in 21 of 25 of the top hotel markets in May remained significantly below the same month in 2019.

According to Indeed data, the food preparation and services industry steadily climbed throughout June. Another job sector that is in increased demand as employers try to fill open positions: human-resources jobs. Indeed data showed human-resources postings were up by more than 50% in mid-June compared with the first week in February 2020.

“I think that really shows the extent to which employers are very eager and interested about staffing up,” Mr. Bunker said.

www.wsj.com