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The chart shows the ratio of job openings to job seekers.
The chart shows the ratio of job openings to job seekers. (Economic Policy Institute)
For the past dozen years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its JOLTS report the week after its monthly jobs report. It's the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary. This measures hires, layoffs and quits. As would be expected, given the other news on the jobs front, the JOLTS report has been showing slow but steady improvement for some time.

Openings are up about 17 percent compared to March 2011. That's the best they've been since July 2008.

There were 3.7 million job openings on the last business day of March, little changed from February but up significantly from a year earlier, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. [...]

The number of total nonfarm job openings has increased by 1.3 million since the end of the recession in June 2009.

The voluntary quits rate is an indicator of how willing and able workers are to leave one job for another. During an economic downturn, far fewer people quit because finding another position is tougher. In March, quits rose slightly. The number of quits was 2.1 million in March 2012, up from 1.8 million at the end of the recession in June 2009.

Quits increased in March by 75,000. They are up about 8.5 percent over March 2011 and registering the highest level since 2008. But voluntary quits are still 25.6 percent below their 2007 average.

As Heidi Shiefholz at the Economic Policy Institute points outs, however, the odds are still stacked against workers:

[T]he “job seekers ratio”—the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings—declined moderately to 3.4-to-1.

However, as the figure shows, it is still well above the highest point it reached during the early 2000s downturn, which was 2.9-to-1. Though there has been steady improvement in the last two-and-a-half years in the odds of finding a job, the odds are still stacked against job seekers. Furthermore, there is no major sector in which the odds for job seekers are strong. The number of unemployed workers outnumbers job openings across the board, underscoring that the main issue in the labor market is a broad-based lack of demand for workers, not workers being in the wrong sectors or having the wrong skills.

One problem with the jobs-to-openings ratio is that we only have this data since 2000, which means comparisons with previous recessions before the one that year are impossible. That puts constraints on the usefulness of the data we do have.

One thing we know, however, is that the high ratio has put the screws to young workers, as noted in the EPI report, The Class of 2012: Labor Market for Young Workers Remains Grim.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue May 08, 2012 at 11:42 AM PDT.

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