Job Openings in U.S. Fell in July to Lowest in Six Months

(Bloomberg) – Job openings in the U.S. fell in July to the lowest level in six months, signaling uneven progress in employment.

The number of positions waiting to be filled declined by 180,000 to 3.69 million, from a revised 3.87 million the prior month that was weaker than initially reported, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Hiring rose and firings cooled.

The report, following data last week showing payrolls grew less than forecast in August, indicates the labor market was struggling to gain momentum at the start of the third quarter. Federal Reserve officials, due to meet Sept. 17-18, are debating whether the economy and job market have improved enough to warrant trimming $85 billion in monthly bond purchases.

“The labor market is still recovering, though slowly,” Russell Price, a senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit, said before the report. “We’re going to see businesses become a little more cautious.”

Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures.

Payrolls expanded by 169,000 workers last month after rising 104,000 in July, Labor Department data showed on Sept. 6. The jobless rate dropped to 7.3 percent in August, the lowest since December 2008, as workers left the labor force.

Today’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTs, report showed the number of people hired climbed to 4.42 million in July, keeping the hiring rate at 3.2 percent.

Industry Openings

Job openings decreased at construction companies, retailers, health service providers and government agencies. They increased in manufacturing and accommodation and food services.

The data also showed firings waned. Total dismissals, which exclude retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, decreased to 1.5 million from 1.6 million a month before.

Another 2.27 million people quit their jobs in July, up from 2.21 million the prior month. The quits rate climbed to 1.7 percent from 1.6 percent.

In the 12 months ended in July, the economy created a net 1.9 million jobs, representing 52.1 million hires and 50.2 million separations.

Considering the 11.5 million Americans who were unemployed in July, today’s figures indicate there are about 3.1 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the last recession began in December 2007.

Private Payrolls

Payrolls data released last week also showed that private employment, which excludes government agencies, climbed 152,000 in August after a revised gain of 127,000 in July that was weaker than first reported.

While some companies are awaiting a pickup in sales before adding to staff, Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, is among those putting more workers on assembly lines as vehicle sales climb. Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford plans to boost fourth-quarter production by 7 percent. In August, the company said an additional shift of 1,400 new workers at a factory in Flat Rock, Michigan, will help increase capacity.

Some businesses are taking steps to reduce staff. Cisco Systems Inc., the biggest maker of networking equipment, in August said it is cutting 4,000 jobs, or 5 percent of its workforce, as weaker sales in Japan, China and Europe weigh on revenue growth.

The Fed is likely to reduce asset purchases to $75 billion this month, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 34 economists conducted on Sept. 6.