Government job openings plunge in January

Governments advertised far fewer jobs in January, offering the latest sign that cuts at the state and local level could slow hiring this year.

Governments advertised far fewer jobs in January, offering the latest sign that cuts at the state and local level could slow hiring this year.

There were 2.76 million job openings at the end of January, the Labor Department said Friday. That's down by 161,000, or 5.5 percent, from December's revised total.

Half of the decline was the result of fewer state and local government positions. Those job openings dropped by 80,000, to 239,000 — the lowest level of state and local openings since last September. Openings at the federal, state and local levels fell by 115,000, a 27 percent decline for that sector.

The monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey also showed that available jobs in the private sector declined 1.8 percent, to 2.45 million. Professional and business services, which include accountants, lawyers and temporary jobs, reported a sharp drop. Openings also dipped in education and health care.

Still, manufacturers, retailers, hotels and restaurants all reported more openings.

Job openings have risen by 649,000 since they bottomed out in July 2009, one month after the recession ended. That's an increase of 31 percent.

But they are still far below the 4.35 million available jobs that were advertised in December 2007, when the recession began.

The report shows that there is heavy competition in the job market. There were about 5 unemployed people, on average, for each open position in January. That's up slightly from December. The ratio peaked at nearly 7 in July 2009. In a healthy economy, that ratio is usually below 2.

Hiring picked up in February, when the economy generated a gain of 192,000 jobs, the Labor Department said last week. The unemployment rate ticked down to 8.9 percent from 9 percent.

But those job gains were held back by steep cuts in the public sector. State and local governments shed 30,000 jobs, while the private sector added 222,000.

The department also revised its job openings data for the last several years to show a much smaller number of openings than previously reported. The downward revision was mostly because fewer new businesses were created during the recession and its aftermath than it previously estimated.

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